ANOUCHKA RENAUD-ECK / France
Anouchka Renaud-Eck (b.1990) lives and works between Paris and India. Her photographic work questions and focuses on the construction of identity. Renaud-Eck mainly concentrates on themes of duality, the twin-ship, as well as the sense of belonging in a group or family. Since January 2020, Renaud-Eck has been working on a long-term project called Ardhanarishvara questioning the notion of perfect union through the prism of arranged marriages and love in India. She works primarily in portraiture and photographing youth.
Ardhanarishvara - In Search of Union
In India, more than ten million couples are married every year. Of these, just one-quarter are unions based on love. As a rite of passage to adulthood or as an alliance between two families, weddings are profound events for all of those involved, not just the bride and groom. Although traditions may vary in different regions or religions, the search for the wedding partner by the parents remains the same.
Traditionally the future bride and groom must belong to the same caste and practice the same religion. They must have the same educational background but it is allowed for the groom to have a higher education than the bride. Hindus, however, must also have astral compatibility certified by an astrologist. Moreover, age is a matter of great importance. In the wedding market, women have their best chance of getting married from the age of 21 to 25, while for men their best chance is from the age of 21 to 29. After these ages, it becomes difficult to find a partner.
This matrimonial quest is in effect a countdown for young people, who often try to put their teenage love affairs aside in order to honor their parents’ wishes. For many years, I have been going to India where I have made many friends. And through the years, the same stories have been written around me. The families from both sides arranged the majority of the marriages. However, the couples mostly accepted it because it allowed them a certain status in society. In this wedding race, many are left behind. Thus, on the eve of his 29th birthday, a friend of mine found himself on an intense quest to find a partner, after his family disapproved of his union with his girlfriend, fearing for his future that cannot be considered without a suitable partner. As I was facing a separation myself and newly brokenhearted, I’ve starting to question the notion of a union.
In Hindu mythology, Ardhanarishvara is one of Shiva’s forms in which he appears with his wife Parvati together as one body. This half-male and half-female form unite their two cosmic forces. The mythology tells many divine love stories that have similar outlines — union, separation, and reunion. A pattern that the film industry today utilizes in stories that are lapped up by contemporary young audiences. Is there no union without pain?