Painted Pain: Three Women Artists, Six Feminist Images

By Anna Lynn

Thirty-six holds the weight of a certain womanhood. It becomes an age of pain, of worry and of hard realisations. In tracing the works of Frida Kahlo, Nilima Sheikh and Arpita Singh, whose thirties defined the way their art practice took shape, I find thirty-six ways of womanhood. The pain of their womanhood, expressed, comes with six motifs—blood, birds, butterflies, flowers, letters and waters. They are full of scars, past loves, gendered violence, sanctuaries among the living, words gathered and an encompassing love struggling against the longing to return to innocent girlhood—where everything commences. These poems are glimpses into their works, produced post their thirties. They are windows, to the meanings I make of my journey through their painted feminist narratives.

Frida's Eulogy

Adorn my pain
with butterflies in your hair.
Affliction becomes worded
in the bedridden worms, 
of blue homes
Married to man,
my heart in her hand
A secret comfort
Hummingbirds glistening 
in the sunlight
of a walkable, escapable past.
A goddess in death
you dictate colours 
into my un-worded bliss
inversions of unborn blood
pain and paint married
unlike the lies in your eyes
of pastels held captive
to the disgorging, 
inseparable flesh of mine
disintegrating in your gaze
we aren’t mannequins to men
their desires silenced
our own archived
for women
to come.
Arpita’s Question

One thousand Begonias
against the folds of my saree
stitched in time
as I crouch, Frozen
in the malaise of memory.
Your words float upon rivers,
maps to the oceans of a young
girl’s crocheted screams.
Can I buy a second?
I shall pay you with my husband's
navy suits, the colour of darkness
and gold beads from my dowry,
the colour of a naive light.
What a match we were!
can I buy a second more,
of blissful girlhood?
Nilima's Maps of Memory

Her tears turn to blood
his mouth a scar,
The death of my beloved, 
a blemish against forsaken land. 
Our knees carry footprints 
of aged trees, circling palm lines
so, we'll recognise our souls 
on the other side. 
As flesh returns to earth,
we are patterns—
skins of leaves, 
water in our roots, 
rows of flowers, 
and butterfly feathers. 
They visit in the silence
Of life unto death, 
They charter glassy waters, 
tense sodium lamps 
Of Water unto Blood.


I. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, Frida Kahlo, 1940 (source:

II. What are You Doing Here, Arpita Singh,1992 (Source: KNMA/Artdose).

III. The Garden of Forgotten Snow, Avijit Mukul Kishore, 2017. A documentary film about artist Nilima Sheikh’s practice and her long engagement with Kashmir.

Anna Lynn is a research scholar in Comparative Literature at EFLU, Hyderabad. Her areas of interest include women’s writing, art and cinema. The anxieties of a feminine heart are a constant muse and as the Woolfian stream passes, she presses watered images into writing. Anna has previously published short stories and poems across various online platforms like Sunflower Collective, Esthesia Magazine, Gulmohur Quarterly and In Plainspeak.

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