An Elemental Ode to Space: Neha Vedpathak

Weight of Dreams
Strong, elemental, and palpable, Neha Vedpathak's works derive inspiration from nature, rituals, and materials to produce thought-provoking installations; whether it's transforming handmade Japanese paper into delicate, exquisitely wrought objects or abstracting soil into soil mounds studding a wall, they invite viewers to pause and reflect by way of engagement. The interrogation, exploration, and manipulation of space also forms the central focus of Neha's work, compelling us to be more minutely aware of the dynamics and narratives of space.

Her Blueprint talked to Neha to find out more about her work.

Could you tell us about your background?

I'm from India. I was born in Pune, Maharashtra but moved around India quite a bit due to my father's job. I have been living in United States for seven years.

You were earlier working upon abstract paintings; however, you then decided to shift into installation art/three-dimensional art-work. How did you make and find this transition? Do you intend to return to abstract painting any time soon or are you now entirely focusing on installation art? 

Yes, I was primarily a painter until late 2008; for many years I prolifically worked in two-dimensional art before feeling saturated. I then decided to expand my practice by moving onto three dimensional works; this transition was slow and difficult. I experimented a lot, trying to find a medium/material that aesthetically resonated with me and gave me conceptual satisfaction. As I wasn't a trained sculptor and didn't have access to many tools and equipment, I worked with what was available in my studio: acrylic polymer, handmade paper, mirrors, and wax. It was through this process of trial and error that I discovered plucking, which is a process I developed in where I separate the fibers of Japanese handmade paper using a tiny push-pin. I remember teasing the paper in this fashion and thinking, it's such a cool technique but there is no way I can make a complete body of work using this process, which is slow, meticulous and time-consuming. However, I went and accomplished exactly that, the results being witnessed at my N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Miami exhibition held last year. There was and is something enthralling and satisfying about this process. As for painting, I did return to it in late 2011– early 2012 making only a few works but approaching it through my new materials: soil and paper. I have also been continually making drawings throughout this period and so maintaining a link to the flat surface via that. 

Working with materials has obviously yielded many discoveries for you. Having earlier used hand-made Japanese paper in your paintings over the years, you now wrought exquisite, delicate lace-like objects through plucking. How did you end up working with Japanese paper and how would you describe your experiences? 

 My exposure to some of the most beautiful Japanese paper happened through a Japanese Canadian artist, a print-maker whom I met in India during during a residency program in 2005. She gifted me different kinds of Japanese papers. I loved them but didn't know what to do with them; after some time, I started collaging bits of paper into my paintings, still not contemplating too much about them. I nevertheless carried them with me through all the studios in India and States I worked in. It was only in 2009 that I approached paper and specifically, this Japanese handmade paper in a new light. It's interesting how this paper travelled and remained with me for 4 years before I was consumed by it. I would say my experience working with paper was gradual and organic. I knew I was attracted to it, not just in terms of its physical qualities but also its hand-made context as well as being aware of Japanese paper-making's rich history; however, it was a while before it assumed personal significance. I would like to believe that when I now approach this paper, it is laden with a deeper sense of understanding and regard, which arises from having forged an intimate history with it over the years. 

Ritual is an elemental source of inspiration for you and you also state that you found the process of plucking as akin to slow-chanting (similar to a ritual or repeating a mantra), as heard in the video above. Could you elaborate more on what the processes of creating art means to you? What does art making mean to you? 

That's a profound question. Honestly speaking, it means everything. Creating art is not just a career-choice: it's a way of life for me, my mode of questioning, learning, and understanding. I would not liken it to standardized religion. To me, it's more of a journey and exploration of myself and the world around me. As for the process of making art being ritualistic, I borrow from the practices of ''rituals'' and ''chanting'' which were a part of my upbringing in India. 
You have earlier wrought snow mounds and in your exhibition at N'Namdi Contemporary Gallery, you created a wall-installation studded with soil mounds [above]. You mention that these mounds bring together what is particularly significant to you: material, ritual, and nature. Having talked about the first two, could you elaborate on what nature means to you in context to the soil and snow mounds?

I have been in awe of nature as long as I can remember. Even as a child, flora and faunae, rocks, stars, and oceans constantly amazed me. I am intrigued by the constant duality that we find in nature: it's simplicity and complexity, strength and vulnerability, its benevolence and destruction and finally, it's essential adaptability. I have sought to mimic some of these aspects through my soil mound installation at N'Namdi Contemporary Gallery. Talking specifically about snow mounds and soil mounds, I started making them around the time that I had started missing and longing for my home country, India. The idea of physically touching the soil/snow and holding it felt valuable and meaningful; however, it was also complex and challenging working with it, snow and soil being natural elements were hard to manage.

Human Rights and Parental Rights in the ECHR

[Editor's Note: Very recently, Britain and Wales legalized same-sex marriage, allowing for couples to legally wed. In this special Her Blueprint blog post, Carrie James, a law student at George Washington University in Washington, DC looks at the way forward for LBG rights across Europe, specifically within the European Court of Human Rights.

Bio: Carrie R. James is a law student at The George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC, where she studies international law and international human rights law. She holds a master of arts degree in international affairs with a concentration in governance and rights from The New School University in New York City and bachelor's of fine arts in theatre from Long Island University. She specializes and is an activist in women's and queer people's rights. She spends her rare free time writing fiction with a very snuggly cat on her lap.]

While the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ensured the protection of rights for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (“LGB”) people, their interpretation of laws to protect LGBs has lead to gaps, particularly in the area of parental rights.

Overview of the ECHR 
The European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) ensures protection of individual human rights as law, which are reviewed and decided by the ECHR. The Court provides individual relief as well as “determines issues on public-policy grounds in the common interest” in order to increase protection of human rights in Europe. Therefore, the Court's interpretation of a law has powerful human rights outcomes.

When the Court reviews laws pertaining to LGB people, Articles 8 and 14 are typically the provisions used. Article 8 protects an individual’s private and family life, allowing interference only to the extent required to secure “national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” Article 14 prohibits discrimination according to the Convention. This means the Court considers different treatment of LGB persons to be discriminatory. Overall, sexual orientation discrimination requires a serious justification for any different treatment.

Previous Cases Involving LGB Parental Rights
The Court has considered several overarching LGB issues: criminalization of sodomy, housing discrimination, and parental rights via custody and adoption. At this time, the Convention does not guarantee a right for LGB people to adopt. In result, adoption issues involving LGB people have often arisen before the Court.

In Frette v. France, the Court determined that a denial of adoption to a single, gay man was not a violation of the Convention. The lack of scientific research coupled with the lack of international consensus regarding adoption by lesbians, gays, and bisexuals supported its conclusion. However, in E.B. and others v. France, the Court reversed Frette, finding that too much emphasis was placed on sexual orientation in denying the adoption, specifically the amount of focus given to the role her partner would play in the child’s life. The Court focused narrowly on the facts of this case rather than, as in Frette, broader public policy issues of allowing lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to adopt.

In Gas and Dubois, only married couples were allowed to access reproductive technologies in France. Because at the time same-sex couples were excluded from marriage, a lesbian couple went to Belgium in order for one partner to be inseminated. After the birth of their daughter, the couple sought a second parent adoption, which was denied because only married couples were permitted to adopt. The Court upheld the denial, because no unmarried couples (same or different sex) could access adoption. Therefore, the rights of the couple were not violated according to the Court's interpretation.

However, in X and others v. Austria,  a woman sought a second parent adoption of her partner’s child from a previous relationship, the denial was found to be a violation. Unmarried, different-sex couples in Austria were permitted second parent adoptions.

ECHR’s Straight Gaze on Relational Rights 
The ECHR’s approach to LGB issues is more likely to protect individual rights (private sex and succession) rights, rather than relational rights (parenting). In the cases I've discussed regarding adoption, the Court approaches the issue by engaging with the difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals or bisexuals. In more recent cases, the Court found a similarity between the groups first and analyzed the different treatment through a heterosexual lens (or the “straight gaze”). As can be seen in the French and Austrian second-parent adoption cases, the ability for LGB parents to secure legal protections of their families is entirely dependent on whether the State provides non-married, different-sex couples legal protections for their families.

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra: Hybrids

Born in Chile in 1967, Sandra Vásquez de la Horra grew up under the dictatorship of General Pinochet. From this chapter of Chilean political history and her personal experiences, she developed personal work through a combination of elements that gave rise to non-linear narratives; they appear ecstatic, traumatic, and surreal all at once. Sexuality, popular culture, and death are recurring motifs in her works, which allude to melancholy dreams and apparitions creating and overlapping each other, interlacing a poetic achieved through an austerity of media.

These fictions -- created from a combination of real facts and memories confronted with elements drawn from popular culture, mythology, and literature -- form a tapestry of figures isolated that embody a richness of meanings. These are passages between the dreams and the evocation, where a web of ideas, associations, and hidden stories seem to envelop figures of a magic shape that avoid falling into the abyss.

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra produces drawings on small pieces of paper, employing color pencil and watercolors, followed by the application of a wax bath and a transparent film that provides protection and permanence to each piece. Her work is informed by film, fairy tales, and botanical and zoological textbooks.

Her drawing is concise and made from fluid lines that create personages on a neutral background. In this space, Sandra Vásquez de la Horra often writes words in Spanish, English, and German, with delicate touches of color that show a fragment of the narrative that enhance or complicate the iconography.

Her mysterious and intimate works suggest the influence of Surrealism, Dada, and Francisco Goya's phantasmagoria. The sober figures and the austere monochromatic of the composition reflect a language based on the texture pattern, typography, and the accumulation. Despite this, Sandra Vásquez de la Horra’s works are fully autonomous and have a very unique and clear sense of their own characteristics, compressing and inventing new territories.

Vásquez de la Horra’s work is part of various public and private collections. It has been exhibited at the Oldenburger Kunstverein, Germany (2012), the Musée d’Art Moderne, St-Etienne (2011), the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht (2010), the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2011, 2009), and the Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf (2008). The artist was awarded the prestigious Guerlain Prize in 2009. In 2012, she participated in “La Inminencia de las Poéticas” at the 30th São Paulo Biennial.

How United Religions Initiative Celebrated International Women’s Day

Elana Rozenman (near far left) from Israel visits a URI leaders in India.
As the official blog overseer of the United Religions Initiative (URI), I search for stories and try to raise the voices of our interfaith activists as best I can. So, as a woman who deeply cares about peace building and women’s rights, my job can be hugely rewarding.

As most Her Blueprint readers are well aware, International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated around the world on March 8th

For me, it was a pure joy to learn about how this momentous occasion was interpreted and celebrated throughout the global URI network.

Our Cooperation Circles—that is, groups of seven or more that represent at least three different faiths or cultures—can be very progressive. Imagine people from every faith coming together to talk about the delicate state of the planet and how to become better stewards of the Earth —it happens everyday, somewhere within the URI network.  

Now imagine women coming together for peace: Christians and Muslims in Pakistan, Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem—this also happens, but on an even larger, or at least more visible, scale on International Women’s Day

The women of URI never need a reason to celebrate and unify for peace; however, IWD is a great way to mobilize a series of events on one day and under one unifying theme.

This year, the United Nation‘s official theme was “Equality for women is progress for all.” URI’s women leaders embraced this sentiment wholeheartedly. Here are a few snapshots of their events:

- Just south of Mumbai in Satara, India, hundreds of Hindu and Muslims women created Rangolis, or floor decorations, on the theme “Women they want to be.” A panel discussion was held on women’s roles in nation building through peace and communal harmony work.

-In Pakistan, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu women came together to receive dance and other performances by children with the theme of women’s empowerment. The female attendees spoke about the local Cooperation Circle WAKE (Women and Kids’ Education), and how its vocational training programs were empowering them to find better jobs.   

-In the Great Lakes region of Africa, more specifically, Kampala, a panel discussion with roughly 50 women from very diverse faith backgrounds was held. The theme was “Inspired by my faith for positive social change.” Women were given a safe space to discuss workplace discrimination, domestic abuse, and the lack of rights to their children and in owning property.  

-In Jerusalem, Israeli and Palestinian women came together to view Women of Cyprus, a documentary about Turkish and Greek women reconciling after the Cyprus conflict. Along with the Greek female parliamentarian who directed the film, a panel of Israeli and Palestinian women discussed the documentary’s relevance to their current situation.

At United Religions Initiative, our women leaders are finding common ground and common goals, elevating both the cause for peace and the cause of women’s equality every day.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recently said, "The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all." 

May San Alberto: On Artemisias and Airing Inequality

On Saturday, March 8, women and men worldwide celebrated International Women's Day in support of advancing women's human rights and to acknowledge their continued struggles. Around the globe, women face myriad gender inequalities, one horrifying example of which is the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Spanish-artist May San Alberto explores such gender inequalities in her exhibitions, Artemisias and Albores XXI. A state-registered nurse but also a fine artist, May traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2011 to volunteer for a month in Congo's capital city of Kinshasa. However, she also arrived with an artistic project to photograph Congolese women in a stunning series of portraits reinterpreting the works of Artemisia Gentileschi, a female Italian Baroque painter and rape victim known for depicting women in states of suffering.

In a recent interview with Her Blueprint, May shared, "Artemisias is a project that reinterprets some works of Artemisia Gentileschi in order to serve as a reflective metaphor about the strength of women to overcome daily [strife] in any civilization at any time. It talks about women as everyday heroines."
Study on Minerva

To date, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most war-torn countries in Africa and is often referred to as the rape capital of the world. The size of Western Europe, the country has been at war since 1998 with a death toll of 5.8 million people. Rape as a weapon of war is rampant in the DRC. Women Under Siege cites that every four minutes, five women are raped in Congo.

May went to Congo with the Artemisias project in her backpack. She explains why she used 17 of Artemisia's paintings and the Congolese women as models.
Artemisia Gentileschi was raped in Rome by a painter working in her father’s workshop. She reported the abuse and won the trial, although to do so she suffered humiliation and torture and became marked by the conservative society of her time. In spite of this, she had workshops in Florence, Rome, Naples and at the English Royal Court, obtaining great success and recognition throughout her life. After her death, history and historians ostracized her by attributing most of her artworks to other artists –for example, her father, Oracio Gentilleschi, or Caravaggio. She is nowadays considered as one of the most accomplished painters of her time, as well as an icon of a fighter and independent woman and one of the first female painters who lived from her artistic work. 
Study Judith and Her Maid
More than 10 million people live in Kinshasa, yet May searched up until the last days she was to depart Congo for the women she photographed in Artemisias.
The women in the photographs are adults with a hard lifetime behind them, May says. Their country, for 25 years, [has been] the battleground of the deadliest war in modern African history. In this context, sexual abuse was largely used as a weapon of war and, still today, gender-based violence continues to be extremely worrying all over the country. Nevertheless, these are Congolese women who despite the armed conflicts, suffering humiliation and poverty are strong enough to look to the future and face the challenge of learning and teaching. All of them, except for the three teachers, are illiterate.
The single photo session lasted two hours, on September 28, 2011, and used only the clothing and furniture available in the school at that moment.

Study on Self Portrait As a Martyr
Empowering women who are abused and highlighting gender disparity run strong themes in May's work. Part of Albores XXI, both Lagrimas Negras and Airing Inequality also focus on gender equality. May shares that her work is taking on these subject matters to further the dialogue about women's roles and the built-in disparity created from gender alone.
Airing Inequality
She says, "Both in Albores XXI and in Artemisias, I wanted to talk about the situation of inequality women suffer in any country on our planet but without emphasizing the suffering but the power, knowledge and security that we will achieve equality. We are strong even though we are thought of as the weaker sex, we are free although we are badly treated, we are intelligent even if we haven't been to school, we are beautiful at any age, we look after our families, we work hard and enjoy life. We look to the future with optimism despite the inequalities and struggle hard every day for a better world."

Recently, Artmesias won the Celeste Prize and the Laguna Art Prize. It has also received prizes in the International Present Art Festival and has been exhibited in Shanghai and Rome. In 2014, some of the Artemisias' works will be exhibited in Venice and also in Milan.

Note: The artist would like to extend her thanks "to the women who took part in the Artemisias Project. It is thanks to the beauty, dignity and innate ability to perform of the women and men who participated in the photo shoot that this art project exists. It is also thanks to the school sisters, who opened the door of their home, their educational project and their life stories to me. I am kindly and sincerely grateful to all of them for their positivity in life and their generous engagement. Furthermore, to generally thank all the women who have helped me to do my artistic projects and…to thank the men too. They all know who they are."

International Museum of Women Merges with Global Fund for Women

In an inspired move to broaden global outreach and awareness for women's rights, we have merged with the Global Fund for Women.

To read more about this exciting news, read the full announcement and check out our FAQs. For the time being, IMOW is thrilled to share these details regarding the merger. 

El Lugar de la Mujer: A Woman's Place

Alicia D'Amico, born in Buenos Aires (1933-2001), was an Argentinian photographer. Camera in hand, she always preferred her photographs in black and white as well as the format of 35 mm.

Alicia graduated from the National School of Fine Arts as Professor of Drawing and Painting in 1953. In 1955, she was awarded a scholarship by the French government and lived in Paris for a year, which allowed her to improve her knowledge in Visual Arts and purchase her first camera.

Two years later, Alicia made her first photographic work thanks to studying and her father who was also a photographer; later, she become assistant to photographer Annemarie Heinrich. Along with Sara Facio, Alicia opened a studio in the 1960s and taught at the School of Photography in Argentina, where she was called "master" by her students.

Between 1983 and 1999, Argentina witnessed a critical mass of women artists emerge who organized exhibitions and events, and challenged the patriarchal discourse. In 1983, alongside the filmmaker Maria Luisa Bemberg, Alicia became cofounder of A Woman’s Place (Lugar de la Mujer). It was one of the first feminist institutions in Argentina to host interdisciplinary feminist activities. It was open to lesbian feminists too, who, in 1986, together with the photographer Ilse Foscova, organized public interventions in favor of women rights.

Alicia's photographic work focused on teaching and collaboration in books, especially with artists and intellectuals of South America such as Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Julio Cortázar, Oscar Painter, Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Angel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, and Astor Piazzolla -- many of whom were the subject of her black-and-white portraits. 

Julio Cortázar

Her work has been exhibited in many countries as part of group shows with other artists such as Pedro Luis Raota, Osvaldo Salzamendi Francisco Tenllado, Rubén Sotera, and Alicia Sanguinett but her work has held individual exhibitions worldwide as well. On August 30, 2001, Alicia died in her hometown of Bueno Aires but her photographs continue to enlighten.

María Luisa Bemberg

Jorge Luis Borges, 1963