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Work / Art

Amad Ilyas’ Naach Girls project explores the portrayal of dancing girls in South Asia

New York Art Director Amad Ilyas is exhibiting new work throughout the month of June on the White Pube website, an online space that breaks down the restrictions of the gallery space and creates a place to exhibit in the digital world.

The audio-visual project looks at the dancing girls of South Asia, and their portrayal in Bollywood and wider society. Naach Girls takes the idea of cabaret and references films like Mera Naam hai Shabnam for explorations of female power and performance through Bollywood films during the period of 1940-1970.

Ilyas deconstructs the meaning of a “naach” (or “dance” in Hindi and Urdu) girl, a term historically understood to describe a dancer who entertains men, women and children in pubic and private settings.

He describes the work as being “composed of various factors from YouTube clips to sound pieces ripped from film, in addition to my own mixed media collages that reference the glossy magazines of Bollywood like Stardust and Filmfare".

Ilyas says that the project aims to deconstruct the roles these girls hold in art and society, through historical and contemporary depictions by “shifting the gaze from the actresses that portrayed these iconic roles to the characters who challenged their roles in the very society that knocked them down”.

“The piece exists online so that is accessible to everyone and they are able to connect with and create a dialogue on their own terms. Many times when we are viewing [Naach girls] in films, they are often sexualized or fetishised, and this project peels that back and shows the women of these films for the power figures they were.”

The work can be seen on The White Pube website, an online space curated by critics Zarina Muhammad and Gabrielle de la Puente that aims to make art spaces conceptual and diverse. The Naach Girls online exhibition will be added to during the month of June.

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