Firstly, on desire… As a woman, you are the object of desire; and yet of course, you too have your desires. Thus you are both the object and the subject in the painting. There is certainly a dichotomy here, based on gender perception. In 1989, Gogi Saroj Pal embarked on a new series of paintings, of mythic fantasies about women. Her first image is of Kamadhenu, the legendary wish-fulfilling cow invoked to fulfil all dreams and desires. That role of being gifted and giving happens to be assigned to women, and Kamadhenu becomes a symbol most apt. Saroj Pal, being an artist and a woman, observes with wry humour: "People say of Kamadhenu, she is so good — she can fulfil all your desires! It is interesting that no one has ever asked about what Kamadhenu herself may desire — if she desired… How can her own wishes be fulfilled?"

Half woman and half cow, this delicious combination of a milky creature is shorn of all clothing — accentuating her sexuality. Yet because her hands and feet are painted red with the cosmetic of alta, she acquires the allure of a woman ready to seduce the viewer. This image and others such as Saroj Pal's series on Kinnari, the mythical bird-woman, form part of a new vocabulary of eroticism. These brazen creatures are both women and beasts, in a constant state of metamorphosis between being civilised and savage, demure and defiant — subverting the original intent of he who desires and she who is desirable.

By Geeti Sen