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Anoli Perera

by Yask Desai, artist

Hair in South Asia has long been employed by the patriarchy as a means of oppression. From socially enforced normativism relating to expectations of its length, to more obscure mechanisms such as the hair dealers in temples who ‘harvest’ the hair of female worshippers for sale at large profits to foreign hair traders, determination of women’s control of their hair throughout South Asia has often been a male domain. 

Anoli Perera re-politicises South Asian female hair through disruption, namely by using it to offer a glaring and empowered middle finger to the relentlessness of the male gaze that dominates the region. Her works incorporate a contrarianism that is almost epic in its beauty and simplicity. The kind of work that leaves an envious fellow artist thinking, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

Her subjects use their hair to render a traditional male gaze impossible for the viewer, yet it is the critique of an established and traditional photographic genre that is perhaps the most sophisticated element of the work. Initially, hair placement apart, Perera’s portraiture appears to replicate that of the early South Asian pictorialists who were either European males or wealthy local males. Both had a penchant for carefully planned and delicate mis-en-scene, deployed to represent a ‘desirable’ view of femininity.

Yet in Perera’s work, as one looks more closely, frames are slightly tilted, lighting is often harsh and uneven, and objects in the background sit awkwardly and out of place. Thus, not only does the work challenge the male gaze through its subject matter but also by ingeniously questioning the inherent patriarchy within the practice of photography itself. 



Image: Anoli PERERA

I let my hair loose  2010–11

from the Protest series IV

pigment ink-jet print

76.2 x 50.8 cm

courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

Image: Installation view of Visions of India: for the colonial to the contemporary featuring artworks by Anoil Perera and Pushpamala N with Clare Arni, Monash Gallery of Art, 2021

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