The Indian woman who sat for a notable American portrait in the ’60s and forgot about it – until now. By Saudamini Jain
In Donald Trump’s America, a painting by Alice Neel acknowledges the history of Indian immigrants.
Neel painted the mysterious woman a year after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act profoundly changed the American immigration policy, removing longstanding quotas on newcomers from India (among other places). Indians called it the “brain drain”, as the highly educated – particularly doctors – left for the American dream.
Was the woman in the portrait a young doctor then?
She wears gold jewellery – balis, a bangle, and a ring on her middle finger. A red bindi dots her forehead. A pinkish shadow on her hairline seems like the remnant of sindoor. She evokes a picture of Ashima Ganguli, the Bengali housewife in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, set in the American North East during the same time period.
Image: Alice Neel, Woman, 1966. Private Collection, Miami. © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London and Victoria Miro, London