Geneva Diaries #39*

More on Women – Dress and Adornment


Dear Roger,

Before we traipse through our prior correspondence, I wanted to take you along for a twirl exploring the topic of women represented in art through the ages in all their fabulous facets. You will be journeying with me to the National Museum of Art in Washington DC, The Hirshhorn and the awesome National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), a museum devoted to showcasing women in all their artistic, literary and creative aspects in Washington DC, and an abs must visit. See below a video clip of the NMWA:

National Museum of Women in The Arts, Washington DC-Video by Purnima Viswanathan
The National Museum of Women in The Arts, Washington, DC – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

See below the iconic image of Women at Work – titled A Lockheed worker working on a fuselage of a P-38 from the series Women at War by Edna Reindel, which I retitle – Equal Pay For Equal Work:“women-at-war”-edna-reindel/mgE9KZRiXyX33g?hl=en

A Lockheed worker working on a fuselage of a P-38-Women at War by Edna Reindel from the collection of NMWA – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Here are some other historic depictions of women displaying their strength, beauty, love and tenderness with great pride and aplomb: As a great beauty or Venus, as huntress or Diana, and woman representing love and tenderness, mother with a child or Madonna and child. In all of the above, the strength, the beauty and the tenderness of women and womanhood is showcased and adored. Unfortunately, real life (especially the cyber-world) seems to be left lagging and it’s time to update it with these images as women often find themselves badgered, beaten and berated if they appear to stand too tall, speak their passion, or shine too bright.

Woman as the embodiment of beauty – See below Venus by Bernardino Luini at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC:

Venus by Bernardino Luini at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Woman as the embodiment of strength– See below Diana by Auguste Renoir at The National gallery of Art, DC:

Diana by Auguste Renoir at The National gallery of Art, DC – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Woman as the embodiment of love – See below Madonna and Child – The Cowper Madonna by Raphael:

Madonna and Child – The Cowper Madonna by Raphael – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Now let’s swing by my fav, the Hirshhorn Museum of art in Washington, DC. See below a woman working on a fabulous mural titled We The People…but tucked away in a cosy corner it reads – The Future is Still Female!

Mural – The Hirschhorn-We The People- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Let me wrap up this blurb on women with a pic of Purnima at The Hirshhorn below:

Purnima at The Hirshhorn, Washington DC – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan




Dear Roger,

More on women!

As I was shifting through the congratulatory messages of India having won the World Cup on Facebook (you do know India is obsessed about cricket), I stumbled upon an article posted by a close friend about vile and horrific treatment of a 14 year old girl who was decreed to be lashed to death because of adultery. A 14 year old child, absolutely horrifying, unreal and unacceptable! Do check out the article below:

CNN: Bangladesh

To compound the horror of the incident, I found it occurred in Bangladesh, so close to Bengal. Having spent my early childhood in Cal, and getting to know the Bengalis, I have an expectation that when I hear Bangla the probability is that it will be from the lips of a cultured sensitive person, but most of all, one who respects woman and womanhood. In fact, Bengal is the one state where a woman can dress as she pleases, walk on the streets at night and take public transportation without the fear of harassment. This fact is often flaunted to the much troubled (and as the Bengali’s quietly whisper “barbaric”) northern Indians. Ironically, this decree to lash the poor 14 year old  girl child to death was probably delivered in Bangla (the language of Bangladesh), impossible, unbelievable!

Bengal, it’s culture and ideas have undoubtedly played a pivotal role in my life and forming the basis upon which the rest has haphazardly evolved. The charm of old Calcutta, the story of the Zamindars (landowners) at the time of the Raj captured in film still strikes a deep cord. My love affair with Guru Dutt, an actor film maker director who embraced the persona of Bengal capturing the essence of that time, that culture in his films, burns in me till today as I walk around park Bertrand, in the heart of Geneva, steeped in nostalgia listening to old Hindi songs from Guru Dutt’s Black and White movie genre. 

Do check me out below me as Meena Kumari adorning myself, “Solah Shringar”, the sixteen items of adornment and the pampering of all the body parts expected of a Indian Bahu (housewife) in anticipation of her spouse… (and as in the movie but in a different form we end up tragically, destroying each other): 

Sahib Bibi aur Gulam: Piya Aiso Jiya Mein




Dear Roger,

And yet again, Women!

Did you get a chance to read Ronald Sokol’s article in the IHT (Sat-Sun), “Two New French Crimes”? It was just brilliant. I scan the paper for familiar voices, the ones I’ve grown to respect and jump whenever I hear Sokol. Roger, as I embark upon my new life (post kids/divorce) wondering how to reinvent myself, I hope to find a niche, to be the voice, the go-between the Public and the Pundits where I am viewed with equal respect and credibility. I would appreciate your feedback on this new brew, spicy, tasty, palatable?

In this article Sokol very coherently discusses the new French law which makes it a crime to hide ones face in a public space. There are many arguments put forward to support this law, none of which sound credible(to me). Apparently, the idea is to dissuade Muslim women from wearing the niqab in public as it supposedly  “breaches the minimal needs of social life”. Now Roger, you know me as a fervent feminist that would labor incessantly to elevate the status of women in society and one who intrinsically rebels against all forms of restraint and confinement imposed upon women by man and society. But, this is an altogether different matter, and one of grave proportions that impacts not only a minority but the core infrastructure of the state: its credibility, its legal system.

Apparently, this “new crime” does not require intent but only that the face was hidden and the person was in a public space. What if I have a cold and wear a face mask along with my sunglasses as usual do I fall within its purview; What if I am recovering from surgery and the doctor has asked me to cover my face would the doctor fall under its purview; What if I need maximum cover due to a vulnerability towards skin cancer, does that fall within its purview; What if for fashion or style I wish to wear a lacy hat and large sunglasses that flop over my face, would that fall under its purview? If not, then by targeting muslim women wearing a niqab, this law would be outrageously discriminatory and unacceptable in any civilized democracy. 

I can understand if it were imposed out of security concerns which it is apparently not (as understood from Sokol’s article), I can even understand if the government wishes to impose this in government institutions or places where there is government funding and a requirement for human interface. But, for the government to intrude upon an individuals private space in this manner whether it is to ban body piercing, tattoos, outrageous hair (as cited by Sokol) or a face cover just because it can, is violating some core intrinsic right which a citizen takes for granted in a civilized society. Sokol also brings up this looming current issue of the oppression of the minority by the majority, and this new law is a glaring example of such an act. 

Yes, I do believe that women should be liberated and freed from bondage and covers imposed upon them but this should not be executed by the laws of the State but a natural cultural process of integration and assimilation where the minorities are educated about their rights and given the opportunities to better their economic and social status. When the State  intrudes into the private space of an individual, when the Laws are used to impose arbitrary restrictions upon a group/ minority, it erodes the entire supra-structure for ALL. The credibility of the state and its laws are called into question and persons like me who might be at the other end of the spectrum wonder and worry about what arbitrary act the State (and the majority… and do I know that heaving majority with its vulgar side) might impose upon me, my ideas and my expression!

There is no simple answer, undoubtedly the minority women need to be given all the options and opportunities that other women in the same society enjoy but this has to be done through another machinery, the cultural one. I believe that these women must be educated, and if initially they resist going to government educated institutions because they have to mingle with men and uncover their faces, then women’s only institutions should be set up for their education and integration so that they may emerge as doctors and lawyers and architects contributing elements of their culture (which could only enrich your society Roger believe me) and bringing the others out of the dungeons where they would be sent if the minimal facilities were not provided for them and they were left at the mercy of the conservative radical elements (i have found that they exist across the spectrum of society). 

Roger, what amazes me is that the French are doing everything to erode and destroy their advantage. Like the English, the French have had a colorful colonial past but exactly contrary to the English who through the Commonwealth and other organizations have maintained their influence, the French whose influence over these predominantly muslim lands (please correct my ignorance as I tend to rant) which I sense till today have an intimate cultural connection with France, is doing it’s best to erode the same. Whenever I think of North Africa, the (Hindi-Urdu)word “Jagir” comes to mind (vous connaissez?):

1. جاگير jā-gīr : (page 604)


جاگير jā-gīr

P s. f. Land given by government as a reward for services, or as a fee; a pension (in land), a fief. جاگيردار jāgīr-dār, s. m. The holder of a fee orjāgīr, a feoffee.

Yes, a sense of a fief, a fiefdom is what I got when I travelled and read about North Africa. However, not where the people feel bound by the colonial powers but where the people choose to associate themselves with a cultural identity. Would love to hear your thoughts on this and how the “new crimes” would impact the same.




Note: Ironically this was written before we were struck by the pandemic and compelled to asphyxiate under face masks returning the above issue of restrictions against face coverings moot. This has illuminated how law and code is relevant within it’s own capsule of time, extending it beyond it’s time and turf does not make for a more equitable society. See me traveling by San Francisco Public Transportation in the summer of 2020, reluctantly double masked and venting my fury in inaudible guffs and gasps much to the mirth of the boys in my life who have finally managed to have this fervent feminist zipped and covered:

The Summer of 2020 – Purnima Double Masked traveling in San Francisco- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Women and Traditional Attire

Dear Roger,

On the subject of traditional attire, wouldn’t the world be a dreadfully dull place if we all looked the same! Women across the world use pigments, piercings, tattoos, dress, design, jewelry, adornments to express themselves, to completely deny them this self expression would be to deny them a piece of themselves. Society has to permit a private space for where such an expression is permissible. See below Saida by Kees Van Dongen a fab fauvist at The National Gallery of Art,DC: An image of a Moroccan woman in traditional attire displaying her charm and sensuality through the vivid palette of the artists brush:;

Saida by Kees Van Dongen at The National Gallery of Art,DC – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Here is a pic of an Indian woman, a dear friend, mirroring Saida above with an Egyptian silver head ornament. Adornment is integral to women across cultures, it’s our express, it links us:

My Friend Suchi as Saida- Photo curtsey Sucharita Shankar

Let’s head back to The National Museum for Women in Art at gaze a while at this wonderful painting titled The Eastern Lady (Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise 874), an image closer to home for in this image, in the dress and adornments I see a glimpse of my girls and the culture of the East.

The Eastern Lady – The National Museum for The Arts, DC – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan
The Eastern Lady – The National Museum for The Arts, DC – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

See me below as an Indian Bride echoing the adornment of The Eastern lady- From The Weisshorn of The East:

The Eastern lady From The Weisshorn of The East – Purnima in Wedding Dress – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

And Women again, and more adornment…. Adornment worn by women across cultures, educational and socio economic strata, at work or at play, for rituals and customs or just as a ubiquitous expression of self worn while harvesting rice or threshing wheat. See below some images from South Asia, my lovely friend, an Indian Lady beautifully draped in a silk saree and adorned from head to toe:

More Central and South Asian Images: See below the similar headdress/jewelry worn by Gul Panrra in this wonderful Persian Urdu (Hindustani) song about love Man Aamadeh Am by Coke Studio, a style of adornment still popular with the women of central and south Asia today:

Screenshot of Gul Panrra wearing Traditional Jewelry from song Man Aamadeh Am by Coke Studio – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

In fact, as a young girl I have been adorned in similar jewelry for the perfect photograph 😊.


Apr 5, 2011, 4:18 PM

Dear Roger,

You never did get back to me on my barrage of emails on “women”, but hope you will respond to the burning question of the role of the government and it’s outrageous intrusion in an individuals private space. Do you not agree that we do not relinquish all when we join society( yes I would like to wear my mid-riff exposing saree and the dragon tattoo…imaginary lol) and that an individual/groups/minorities need to be able to identify and outline their space as they co-exist within the heaving majority is a conscionable and valid right. And above all, do you not agree that we need minimal governmental interference in the daily existence which includes taking the government to task for imposing excuses like the Patriot Act and other intrusions to monitor and interfere in our daily lives. And do you not agree that the time has come for a citizen alert whereby they may wrestle back some of the right they seem to have unconsciously relinquished by immediately imposing the requisite checks and balances upon the executive (ensuring that the current machinery does its task) so that the president does not declare War on a Whim??

Back to our favorite topic of women and wardrobe… I guess a rational case can be made for government intrusion in the instance of individuals who choose to walk nude in public which most would agree is not socially acceptable as there is no cultural basis for this behavior; I guess, a similar argument using the same rationale can be made for wearing a full body cover… it’s not socially acceptable as there is no cultural basis for this sort of behavior. However, Roger, as I pointed out in my last email, France is the last nation that can make that claim as it has been historically, culturally, administratively involved in lands where the niqab is the norm and following the French argument and idea, having grandfathered these nations they exist as an extension of the same albeit with the reins driving the direction and ideology, do you not agree? Waiting for your response.




Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: