Wednesday, January 31st, 2001

Building A Path Between Nations

WHY women? And why only South Asian women? Is this a feminist agenda we are talking about? These questions eventually get answered as one marvels over An Emancipated Place - 2000 Plus, Women in Architecture, a comprehensive paperwork put together by architects Brinda Somaya and Urvashi Mehta. " It's interesting how men are defined by their work and women by relationships," said Shyam Benegal, before releasing the book at the National Gallery of Modern Art. "I am happy that I scanned cover to cover, finding the myth shattered." He added. Presenting a cross-section of landscaping and building work from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - together with some representation from Singapore and Australia - the book demonstrates how women architects are steering a path midway the "inevitable" global culture and their own nations' rich designs traditions.

"Few countries in the world offer architects challenges as those in the South Asian region," Brinda Somaya answered one of the questions that posed like a concrete block in front of the 100-odd architects, students and media people in attendance for the book release. "And in the last few decades, women architects have been responsible for an enormous and diverse body of work, which deserves wider recognition," she said, answering the other. "After working in the Seventies and the Eighties, when there was no earth-shattering change I found no change in the gender composition in my profession, it seemed the Nineties was the decade when women came into their own in the field of architecture in our country. And if it made an impact here, it definitely made one in our neighbouring nations," elaborates Somaya in the book's foreword.

So, after two decades of virtually no interaction with any of the woman architect in India, and even lesser contact maintained with others in the South Asian region, Somaya -wanting to register the changes in the fraternity -organised a meet. "Though I had already met Minnette de Silva, both in India and Sri Lanka, there were women like Yasmeen Lari from Pakistan whom I wanted to meet. And it was high time an exhibition of the works of anonymous talents was showcased." she says of the meet she organised last year, which has today taken shape of this reference for the budding and established architects alike.

However, Somaya and architect friend Urvashi Mehta were clear that it would not be a conference on gender issues. The conference was a success-with wide interaction and quality audience comprising environmentalists and even historians.
And not wanting to end at that, the duo decided to document the proceedings in a book about practicing women today. Which unfortunately, elimates the like of the late Urmila Elie Chowdhary and Pravina Mehta.

However, an exception has been made, perhaps for the sake of historical chronicles, by including the late Perin Mistry and late Millette de Silva. So, there's Namita Singh, Meena Mani, Sandhya Sawant ad Abha Narain Labah from India, there's Fawsia Qureshi and Ayesha Noorani from Pakistan and Afroza Ahmed from Bangladesh… presenting their holistic approach to building-which doesn't discriminate, either between classes or sexes.

Like Brende Vale said: "The women who accept their traditional role and identify their feminism with it are capable of producing architecture of environment responsibility than those who take up the male role for one-off act if innovation, creation."


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