Thursday, July 25, 2024

Patriarchy in stainless steel | Sonal Ambani at the 2024 Venice Biennale

Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Years before she picked up the welding machine, Sonal Ambani’s instrument of choice was the double bass. “At school, I was the first bass for my school’s orchestra,” says the artist-sculptor who grew up in New York and now lives in London. “Despite my hard work and ability, when the all state orchestra was constituted, I was surprised to see that without an audition, it was assumed that a boy should play the first chair.”

Ambani says she could not contextualise it back then, but after seeing a similar pattern repeat over and over again, it has become clear to her that patriarchal structures not only create gender biases in opportunities for girls and women the world over, but also continue to perpetuate economic inequality. This realisation was further influenced by Nobel laureate Claudia Goldin’s studies on women and work — all of which forms the basis of Ambani’s latest sculpture, on show at the ‘Personal Structures’ segment of the ongoing Venice Biennale.

Sculptor Sonal Ambani

Sculptor Sonal Ambani

At the European Cultural Centre in Palazzo Mora, stands the poetically titled Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune: a bull (representing male hegemony) charging towards a circular red target, as crimson arrows pierce its thick, stainless-steel hide which itself is a filigree-like structure of global currency signs. To contribute to the dialogue to end such discrimination, this is Ambani’s “visual metaphor for the gender pay gap”.

Strong, clean, mirrored

Across her three-decade long career, Ambani has built a niche for large-scale, impactful work. It is a practice born of her parents’ encouragement — her father ran an art gallery in New York, and they would take her to visit places such as the Storm King Art Centre, the iconic open-air museum in New Windsor.

The bull arriving in Venice

The bull arriving in Venice

Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune at the European Cultural Centre in Palazzo Mora

Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune at the European Cultural Centre in Palazzo Mora

She has presented work in prestigious rooms, including the Leila Heller Gallery, and was one of the artists selected for the Elephant Parade in 2018. Ambani has been inspired by artists such as Anish Kapoor, Bharti Kher, Antony Gormley and Lorenzo Quinn — taking lessons from each on form (how to manipulate space or intricate craftsmanship) and content (identity and societal issues).

Those familiar with her work will recognise the bull from her pandemic-era piece Ethereal Value, which meant to spark thought on how we determine value in our lives. They’ll also recognise the sculptor’s affinity for figurative expression through the animal kingdom — horses, lions, elephants, birds and bears have all been rendered, often in stainless steel (with the help of skilled artisans) over a three decade career.

“Stainless steel holds a particular appeal due to its strength, durability, and modern aesthetic,” explains Ambani, who has also worked with bronze, fibre and wood when she was looking to imbue her works with a warm, timeless quality. “Stainless steel has proved useful [in this work] to aesthetically embody the nature of patriarchy. It allows for a clean, polished finish that can convey both power and precision, which is essential for a piece like Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune. The material’s reflective quality also adds an interactive dimension, engaging viewers as they see themselves mirrored in the sculpture.”

Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

A close-up of the sculpture

A close-up of the sculpture

Triggering action, motivating change

This piece has sparked personal reflection from visitors, says Ambani, whose previous appearance at the Venice Biennale, with the emotive work Riderless Sky, also triggered a great deal of interactive engagement. “I hope visitors take away a heightened awareness of the pervasive nature of the gender pay gap and feel inspired to take concrete actions towards achieving gender equality. The goal is to provoke thought, elicit empathy, and motivate change.”

The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai, writing on culture, lifestyle and technology.

#Patriarchy #stainless #steel #Sonal #Ambani #Venice #Biennale

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles