1992-1998 PICA Perth, Australia

The theme of suttee, or the practice of widow burning (forced or voluntary) became an important research topic early in my contemporary dance practice. Suttee was the beginning of my awareness of gender bias in my personal and artistic life, which inevitably drew my focus towards social issues and the politics of being a woman and artist living between two cultures.

In Hindu culture, a widow is deemed ‘inauspicious’ for not dying before her husband, thus failing in her duty of preparing his place in heaven. Whilst discrimination of a single female varies in different cultures, the atrocities towards widows in India have not abated. Dowry (bride price given to the groom’s family) deaths are the most common “accidents” that befall brides, usually by fire, and mostly under suspicious circumstances. Suttee, however, is prevalent in many Indian regions, with police choosing not to intervene. Two decades after this work, the atrocities towards women in India have worsened, leading to my continued performance research as activism.

It was my first collaboration with composer and musician Prof. Cat Hope who played a variety of flutes live for all the performances. Suttee was performed for Artrage Festival PICA (1992), and as part of my Virtual Goddess tour (1998) to The Hub, Byron Bay, Sydney Performance Space, Sydney, and Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra.

Concept and choreography: Rakini Devi
Composer: Cat Hope
Photography: Ashley de Prazer
Masks: Cecile Williams

The evening’s power comes from “Suttee”, Rakini’s contemporary work inspired, if that’s the word, “by the Hindu ritual of widow immolation”. It’s a terrifying, haunting piece, of shape changing floating drapery and masks, nightmarish and deeply disturbing. The final work “Rising” “a work on disempowering pain” is no more comfortable, but a lot more hard-edged and much less likely to surface at three in the morning.

The collaboration between Rakini and musician/composer Cat Hope make for a rich and satisfying evening, catch it before it disappears over the horizon.

(Sonia Humphrey, The Australian 19/6/1998 The Virtual Goddess Tour, Performance Space, Sydney)