Often likened to Frida Kahlo, Amria Sher Gil was the daughter of an aristocratic Sikh scholar and a Hungarian socialite. Her mixed heritage bestowed upon her striking good looks and the opportunity to straddle many worlds. She travelled to Paris at the mere age of sixteen to study art, made frequent trips to Hungary, and returned to India in her twenties. While in Paris, she had a number of torrid affairs. It was rumoured that she even had a relationship with another woman, Marie Louise Chasseny, who was also a painter. Upon hearing these rumours, Amrita’s mother promptly wrote her a letter to enquire about this supposed affair.
Amrita’s reply betrays a lucid awareness of her own sexuality and a tenacity of spirit which is striking for a person so young.
“My dear Mummy,
Do you know that I am of age? So, please do respect me, my dear clever and understanding
mother... I never had any relationship with Marie Louise, and will not have one either.
And you can believe me. Knowing how unprejudiced, objective and intelligent you
are, I am going to be very frank with you. I confess that I also think as you do about the
disadvantages of relationships with men. But since I need to relieve my sexuality physically
somehow (because I think it is impossible to spiritualize, idealize sexuality completely
in art, and channelizing it through art for a lifetime is impossible, only a stupid
superstition invented for the brainless), so I thought I would start a relationship with a
woman when the opportunity arises…”
In fact, her painting ‘Two Girls’ is believed to be a portrayal of her own conflicting desires and a confrontation between her two worlds – light and dark, East and West, attraction and restraint.
Sher Gil died suddenly in Lahore under mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty eight, leaving behind snatches of writing and her bold paintings — a rich legacy of clues to her two worlds.