Actor Kasthuri never imagined that there would be an overwhelming outpouring of love and affection from across India for a photo shoot she did top - nude with her baby for a motherhood project by American photographer Jade Beall three years ago.
The series of photographs show Kasturi cuddling and breast-feeding her baby (TNM has used only two pictures from the collection).
But the actress was however taken by surprise by the manner in which the photographs went viral.
Kasthuri has acted in many popular Tamil and Malayalam movies and continues to pursue film and theatre as she shuttles between Tennessee and Chennai.
Three years ago, Kasthuri posed for Jade Beall’s 'A Beautiful Body Project: The Bodies of Mothers'.
With stretch marks, sagging breasts, lack of sleep, the pain of breast-feeding, a temporarily non-existent social life, it is not easy to ignore how society looks at you. On the one hand, it glorifies the fact that you are a mother, but stops seeing you as an individual; on the other, it shames you for what that very glorification has done to your body after having a child. The project that captured pictures of scores of women, intended to bring the beauty of a woman’s body post childbirth.
Kasthuri told The News Minute that she was amazed at all the love and positive reactions that were pouring in. But the actor was unhappy that the copyrighted pictures were republished without permission. Several publications and websites used the photos that are under her joint copyright without seeking her permission and the actor has now sent legal notices to around 20 such publications.
Kasthuri’s photos were published by Beall on her Facebook page, the last one in May 2015. But suddenly, someone seems to have recognised the actress, and the pictures soon went viral.
She told The News Minute, “I was surprised that it got so much attention yesterday. Motherhood is divine, and it’s truly awesome that most people get it.”
She was also unhappy that her personal and family details had been reported wrongly by “Wikipedia trolling journos”
Asked whether she thought that India is ready for a project that photographs women’s bodies without objectifying them, Kasthuri replied, “Even Indian deities are nude. To this day, our saints are half naked, monks are naked. So that’s a reminder of our past tradition. But the wheel has turned too far. It will take time. Also, In India, there is not a big need for body image introspections I think.”
Beall’s project was all about taking the socially imposed ‘ugliness’ on the body of a woman who has had a child.
In most cultures, including in India, motherhood is glorified. But despite the glorification, motherhood brings ‘ugliness’ for women, whose identity as a gender, is socially defined more by their appearance and their ability to have children than anything else.
Beall’s journey photographing the bodies of women who had had children began after she had her own child. Writing for The Guardian, she says that she “dragged herself” to her studio and took some self-portraits when she was “totally scarred and suffering from post-partum depression”. Soon, women began contacting her to take photographs of their “ruined” bodies.
(The News Minute has obtained permission from Kasthuri to publish these images.)