Asia has become the most masculine continent in the world. India, in particular, indicates a continuing preference for boys in society. According to the country’s provisional 2011 Census report released in March 2011, the child sex ratio in India dropped to 914 females against 1,000 males – the lowest since Independence. This phenomenon is partly due to the appearance in the 1980s of ultrasounds, which resulted in countless sex-selective abortions to the detriment of girls, leading ultimately to such dramatic consequences on the feminine condition as the purchase of women for marriage, abduction of girls, and an increase in rates of prostitution and polyandry.
Artist Prune Nourry’s series of sculpture, video, and performance works, Holy Daughters, raises this issue of sex selection in India. In 2010, before the recent census results were even released, Nourry created her first set of Holy Daughters sculptures and installed them publicly in the streets of New Delhi. Hybrids between India’s sacred cows and adolescent girls, the Holy Daughters sculptures blur the line between the venerated symbol of fertility (the cow) and the culturally undesired vector of fertility (the girl).
On May 19, Nourry, in collaboration with the Invisible Dog Art Center, presented Holy River, a performative sculptural event and the next installment in the Holy Daughters series, which responds specifically to this year’s census. Holy River took place during Durga Puja, the Hindu festival honoring the goddess Durga, which is traditionally celebrated in Kolkata through the creation—from the clay of the holy Ganges River—of thousands of sculptural images of the goddess and other deities, who are then adorned, processed and ultimately returned to the river from which they were born. In August 2011, Nourry commissioned a team of all male artisans from Kolkata’s Kurmartuli potter’s district to create a monumental (15 foot high) hybrid sculpture inspired by the design of her earlier Holy Daughters, yet made from Ganges clay in a traditional Durga style. The procession and immersion of the Holy River sculpture on October 6 as part of Kolkata’s Durga Puja celebrations created a dramatic and meaningful interaction between Nourry’s work and the people of India.