Gallery Espace presents Drawing Trails by Nilima Sheikh

Gallery Espace, Drawing Trails, Nilima Sheikh

New Delhi: Gallery Espace presents Drawing Trails; Work on paper 2008-09 by Nilima Sheikh, a solo exhibition of 16 large works (tempera on sanganer paper) and 15 book illustrations by veteran artist Nilima Sheikh. The exhibition comes after a gap of six years at Gallery Espace, 16, Community Centre, New Friends Colony from April 17, 2009 to May 30, 2009.

Art Exhibition previously on in India.
From Friday 17 April 2009 to Saturday 30 May 2009
Launch Friday 17 April 2009, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.

A girl called Bhawan image

Published by anonymous on Monday 06 April 2009.
Contact the publisher.

Born in New Delhi in 1945, Nilima Sheikh studied History at Delhi University (1962-65) and Painting at Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda (1965-71) where she taught painting between 1977 and 1981.

The artwork presented here by Nilima Sheikh can be seen as part of an unbroken trajectory, a set of preoccupations that have engaged her for several years now, more or less since 2000. Most immediately, these works resonate with the themes and the representational strategies that can be seen at play in the Firdaus and The Country without a Post Office series.

What is strikingly new in this show, however, is the systematic way she explores the theme of community suffering in the face of sectarian violence and state brutality, mapping the difficult terrain where the everyday life of people intersects with large events in the public domain. Sheikh’s works thematize violence, terror, trauma, grief of ordinary people in Kashmir and Gujarat. Carefully avoiding the easy conflation of these two places via the axis of community, she explores the relationship of people to the place they live in, offers accounts of their ‘return’ to those spaces of violence which once constituted the very domain of everyday life. The motif of the return haunts this suite of sixteen works but in a way that refuses both a simple nostalgia as well as an unfettered confidence in the resilience of an oppressed people. The tension that is laid out across these incommensurate pulls forms the basis of her deceptively lyrical works in the present series.

In the current show, in her characteristic style, which engages the contemporary through a careful positioning of diverse techniques and histories, Nilima’s works engage with violence, trauma and grief in the lives of ordinary people in troubled regions, using the mediation of the written word. Her imagined geographies set up a play between the fantastic and the real in a way that allows the emotional landscape of the remembering self to emerge. While exploring the theme of community suffering, her language works its way through art histories of visual traditions, particularly of Asia.

Many of her works are accompanied with excerpts from various articles and poems. For example her work titled A girl called Bhawan includes a poem by Nund Rishi/ Hazrat Nuruddin (1356-1440 C.E.). Similarly, My hometown carries an excerpt from the article ‘My Hometown’ by MK Raina, published in Communalism Combat, January 2005.

Route 2 and Tree Planter are her works on Kashmir, with a focus on the poetry of Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali. Whether it is the persona of Agha Shahid Ali showing the pain of leaving Kashmir or the figures grieving as they leave in At a certain point I lost track of you, the body itself becomes the repository of the past, an archive of things familiar that are left behind.

Sheikh’s specific engagement with the body in these works has allowed her to explore the intimate relationship between community practice, body and land. The picnic, marked by outdoor cooking, is staged as a Kashmiri practice that can emerge in good weather, in good times. Now, however, as Tree planter and What happened that day 2 suggest, such good times, framed through histories of violence, are hard to come by.

What happened that day 3 with an excerpt from Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie carries the following text in it: “What happened that day in Pachigam need not be set down here in full detail, because brutality is brutality and excess is excess and that’s all there is to it. There are things that must be looked at indirectly because they would blind you if you looked them in the face, like the fire of the sun. So, to repeat: there was no Pachigam any more. Pachigam was destroyed. Imagine it yourself. Second attempt: The village of Pachigam still existed on maps of Kashmir, but that day it ceased to exist anywhere else, except in memory. Third and final attempt: The beautiful village of Pachigam still exists.

In the series of paintings titled Route, Nilima Sheikh references a set of photographs taken by a Kashmiri father en route to the cemetery, mourning over a son lost to militancy. The photographs and the diary written by the man surely stand as testimony to his grief, but also represent a will to remember, to record. At one level, Sheikh renders the route of mourning, directly drawing references from the photographs. The organization of Route 2, for example, into distinct panels that are nevertheless worked into a continuity replicate the physical form of the photographs as well as the linear quality of the route. Sheikh’s exploration of the space between grieving and memory, however, refuses to be confined to the single instance of a father’s sorrowing; it gestures towards grieving over Kashmir itself as the reference to I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight by Agha Shahid Ali makes all too clear.
In Return, the artist creates a landscape scattered with the rubble of a now abandoned settlement, a man scrabbles in the debris for once shining things that constituted his past. The abandoned houses gesture to violence that has forced their inhabitants to leave. What does he seek—his possessions, his past, memory itself? Does he wish to build an archive of his grief? His gestures speak to those of the old woman who attempts to rekindle the domestic hearth in Testimony, but side by side his actions resonate with the three women who wish to testify, who are themselves testimony and record of devastation, who will the translation of memory into recorded history.

Apart from other paintings in the show, there are also on display Nilima Sheikh’s illustrations from the children’s book Moon in the pot by Gopini Karunakar that showcase the story of a child’s urge to play with the moon. The story is narrated through the eyes of a small kid whose grandmother Guddawwa creates a magical world of stories for her grandson. Old Guddawwa faced a life full of struggle and hardships and her only muse were her grandchildren and other kids in the community. An extract from the book to which Nilima has added her colourful illustrations reads as follows: In the summer, one evening, it rained very heavily. That night the flame-of-the-forest tree in our backyard blossomed with stars. My little brother, Peerubabu, my little sister Vasanta, and I, went near the tree. The tree glittered bright with stars. Vasanta looked at the tree in wonder and covering her mouth with her hands exclaimed, “Oyyamma! So many stars!” I caught hold of a branch and shook it. The stars fell to the ground like flowers. We gathered the stars in our clothes and ran to Guddawwa. ( We call her Guddawwa because she has only one eye.) the stars glittered in our hair, on our clothes. We shone brightly as if we wore stars for flowers in our hair and starry shirts and frocks! Pointing to the stars on her frock, Vasanta said, “Awwa, look! So many stars!” “But they are not stars. They are fireflies”, said Guddawwa. “Fireflies! What are they, Awwa?” I asked.

Nilima’s practice has embraced various kinds of paintings, from the hand-held miniature to the construct at an architectural scale, and from conventionally hung paintings to scrolls and screens for the theatre stage. Usually blending her colours from pigment with casein or other tempera medium, there is a sensuous immediacy in poetic representations of the everyday and the supra-mundane. She uses, and indeed, often constructs the surface of her work with the stencils made by the Sanjhi artists of Mathura. Having spent almost all of her student and professional life in Baroda, she acknowledges her debt to teachers like KG Subramanyan, and to the older Santiniketan experiment which recognized the value of history in reinventing tradition and in bridging the dichotomies between craft traditions and studio practice.

The exhibition will also be accompanied with a well documented catalogue with a comprehensive essay by Baroda-based scholar Deeptha Achar.