Latest Exhibitions

Baron Art gallery Oberlin College
Ohio USA 21 Nov. 2014 – 28 Dec. 2014

The Kotha and The Akhara: Historical Indian Archetypes of Masculinity and Femininity

Joan Marie Kelly

This exhibition consists of a body of artwork inspired by spending time and making art with two contrasting yet similar communities in Indian society, female sex workers, and Indian wrestlers. I am viewing the sex workers on the streets of Kolkata as the cultural descendants of the “courtesan,” the archetype of femininity whose world of protocol and procedure could not adapt to transformations brought by modernity. Over the centuries there have been all types of women giving sexual services from the vesya who provide sexual services to devadasi, or temple dancers, to highly respected mujarewali or courtesans who were patronized by the elite of society. The Kotha (the residence of a group of courtesans) was respected and culturally supported. Expertise in the traditional arts of dance, music and poetry shrouded the sale of the female body. Their descendants, dis-enfranchised sex workers face a contrasting world of survival and scorn, as outcasts living on the margins of society. Presently, Red light districts are pushed out, usually crime ridden and in disrepair.

The exhibition gives visual form to engagement with sex workers in the brothels of Kolkata over a period of five years, and two weeks spent with the Pahalwan in an active Akhara in Varanasi India.

I aim to thread together a contemporary view of circumstances and adaptations of the historical archetype of femininity, the culture of the Kotha with the historical archetype of masculinity, the Pahalwan and the culture of the Akhara.

Curator: Associate Professor Sarah Schuster

Born in Boston, Massachusetts USA, Sarah Schuster attended Boston University for her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and went on to receive her Masters of Fine Art in panting from Yale University. She lived and worked in New England and New York until she took a position at Oberlin College in Ohio where she has been teaching painting for the past 25 years. Her work has been exhibited in Istanbul, Europe, USA, Korea, China. October 2014 she will participate in The 1st International Lankawi Art Bienniale Malaysia. Recent solo exhibitions, ‘Descent’, 2013-14, Furman College Art Gallery USA. Sarah Schuster has worked across media for many years, but she always returns to painting. The subject matter of her work varies, but the underlying theme is the intimate relationship between creation and destruction both in the natural world and in the painting process itself.


The Kotha and The Akhara: Historical Indian Archetypes of Masculinity and Femininity

By Artist and Painter: Joan Marie Kelly

My interest in Joan Marie Kelly’s artwork began several years ago when an acquaintance of mine introduced me to her painting and the project she was doing with the sex workers in Kolkata. Her doggedness to paint perceptually where others refused to go seemed radical within the genre of contemporary representational painting. A multitude of artists In Cinema, New Media, Community-based and Grassroots artistic practices cross and blur the cultural boundaries of agency and power, but I had never seen a perceptual painter who was, in her own way, undertaking this kind of unraveling. Outside of a handful of contemporary mural painters such as Judy Baca, and the early portraits of Alice Neel I was at a loss as to who was doing work like this in the arena of traditional oil painting. I began to wonder why this practice might have become taboo given the many instances of such work in the history of Western art.

The feminist critique of patriarchal culture, and its strong hold on Western painting has been extremely important and influential to me as a woman painter, but in thinking about Joan’s work I began to think of the ongoing repercussions of defining the gaze as male. What is the ongoing impact of recognizing that the traditional languages of patriarchy, such as those championed and ensconced in western figure painting, inevitably reproduce the objectification of the subject and position the subject of the painter’s attention as both an object and as the other. Is painting from the figure or model about the artist’s projection of their reality onto the sitter? I had begun reading the Israeli born philosopher, analyst and artist Bracha Ettinger. Her work impacted the French feminist movement, and she spoke of the ‘matrixial’ gaze to describe a post-conceptual practice that reshapes the legacies of the technologies of surveillance and documentation as a pathway towards a future where acceptance of the burden of sharing, transforming and processing trauma is possible.

Working with and from marginalized groups of people is very problematic because of the ingrained hierarchies of power but as Joan has said to me, “The risks are worth it to me when faced with the option of doing something rather then doing nothing at all.” I curated this exhibition to put it forward as a possible option for change and transformation, and to invite us to consider that the gaze may also be a means of absorption, and coming to know.

Joan Marie Kelly

-- About

-- About --

Social Art Practitioner | Artist | Teacher

Joan Marie Kelly is a practicing artist, exhibiting and publishing internationally. Her creative work emanates from ethnographical practices such as “fieldwork”. She is a social art practitioner implementing participatory art workshops since 2009 with sex workers in Kolkata India as the founder of ‘The Kolkata Women’s Dialogue.’

She works to sustain endangered languages with three linguists, Lauren Gawne, Alexander Coupe and Frantisek Kratochvil. In each linguist’s focus area she creates artistic engagement with members of the host communities. The focus of the workshops is to expose and gain understanding of visual iconography embedded in the culture of the host community.

Joan teaches at Nanyang Technological University, School of Art Design and Media in Singapore, since 2005.

7 Awards

2014 - “Best of Show” China Art Expo, Beijing 2014

2013 - 16th World Peace Exhibition, Excellence in Social Art, 1st Prize, 50 International Artists

2013 - Honorary Guest Artist, Marrakech Morocco, Guinness Book of World Records

2012 - Achievement in Figurative Painting, 1st Prize, Jeonbuk Biennale, 510 artists from 45 countries

2012 - Honorary Ambassador, Ecorea Jeonbuk Biennale, Jeonju Korea

2012 - Appreciation of Service Ecorea Jeonbuk Biennale, Rym, Chung Yeap, Mayor Wanju, Korea

2006 - Masters of Fine Art Honors Award, Western Connecticut State University, Artist Residencies

18 Collections

Notable International Private and Corporate Collections

2011 - Chandran Nair, CEO of GIFT, Global Institute for Tomorrow

2009 - Private Collect, Richard O’Brien, Irish Ambassador Singapore,“The Burren”

1990 - Private Collection, Will Barnet, Artist, New York

1990 - Corporate Collection, Kidder Peabody: New York

1990 - Private Collection, Diana Kan: Artist New York

1990 - Private Collection, Lady Jane Ashley: New York

47 Exhibitions

Solo Exhibitions

2014, 1-20 Dec - “Historical Indian Archetypes of Masculinity and Femininity: The Kotha and The Akhara”
Baron Art Gallery, Oberlin College USA

2012, 11-17 April - “Initial Encounters”
Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi Curator, Alka Pande

2011, 6 Dec - 30 Jan - “Rabindra Sarani, Portraits of Twenty Women”
Oresman Gallery at Smith College, Northampton Massachusetts USA

2011, 12-30 July - “Zones of Contact”
Blue Mountain Gallery Chelsea, New York City

2008, Nov - “Reflex”
Museum and Galeri Tuanku Fauziah | University Sains Penang

28 Publications

Journal Publications as 1st Author

“Art Production and Social Knowledge: Relationship to Development Communications” The Journal of Development Communication Volume 23, Number 2, PP6725/01/2013 ISSN 0128-3863

“Engineering Education in the 21st Century: Creativity, Collaboration, Invention” International Journal of Information and Education Technology Vol. 3, No. 2 April 2013 pg. 240 ISSN2010-3689

“The Public Art of Joan Kelly: Zones of Contact” Solo exhibition written essay by Art critic David Cohen of Artcritical, 2012, Designer: Cindy Wang ISBN 978-981-07-1843-5

International Journal of Arts and Society 2009, publication “The Communicative Dynamics of Painting” Joan Kelly 1st author, vol.4, number 3, 2009 ISSN 1833-1866


-- Contact Me

-- Contact Me --

  • phone:
    (65) 81260134
  • email:
  • address:
    96 Nanyang Crescent, 02-10 Nanyang Meadows, Singapore 637664
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