Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Cydra Vaux

Leaving Perdah and the Palace of Wind

Leaving Perdah and the Palace of Wind

Cydra Vaux. Leaving Perdah and the Palace of Wind, 2009.

Perusing a book of architecture from India, I came across the beautiful Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds, built in 1799 in Jaipur. The building is captivating and I longed to visit it. Yet reading about the palace, I discovered its disturbing history. On the facade are windows with lattice work that catch the wind and provide a breeze inside the palace. However, the underlying reason for the lattice was to enforce strict purdah, or face cover. The women of the harem could watch the world outside their prison without passersby seeing them.

The front of this piece shows the Palace of Winds; the reverse side finds a modern-day woman standing on a train platform surrounded by her luggage. She represents women who have been able to break free from horrific practices like purdah. On the surrounding walls are traditional tessellating tiles and behind her is a wall clock that reads two o’clock, a play on the word “to,” as she is going “to” someplace. The circular form of the clock serves as a halo and speaks of divinity amidst the secular. On the tableau beneath, birds in flight echo her freedom.

While I was making this sculpture I was preparing to go to Brazil on a Fulbright Group Study Abroad. I was wrestling with feelings of responsibility to my husband and son and how although I love being a mom and wife, I was looking forward to this new adventure.


women's history, purdah, male gaze, sculpture, halo, terracotta, architecture, India

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