Nilima Sheikh, one of the pioneers of a feminist vision in Indian art in the 1970s, is back in the Capital after six years for a solo exhibition.
Most of her art works for the show
Drawing Trails: Work on Paper 2008-2009
beginning at Gallery Espace April 17 - talk of issues like women's empowerment, rights of the girl child, domestic life, terrorism and Kashmir. There's a medley of figures, texts and manually-blended pigments on Sanganer paper, sourced from near Jaipur in Rajasthan. Texts and issues are the high points of Vadodara-based Sheikh's art work.
"I have been working with texts since 1984 when I painted a series,
When Champa Grew Up
, on dowry and bride burning. I incorporated text with my drawings. Ever since, extracts from poetry, folk tales and from books like Urvashi Butalia's
The Other Side of Silence: Voices from Pakistan
and Salman Rushdie's
Shalimar, the Clown
have been part of my art.
An art work titled
A girl called Bhawan
which will feature in her solo exhibition, makes use of a poem by (Kashmir's Sufi saint) Hazrat Nuruddin Nund Rishi while
carries an excerpt from the article
by MK Raina, published in Communalism Combat in 2005.
Two of her works on Kashmir,
focus on the works of Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali. "If you look at our historical texts like the Bible, the story of the Buddha, Krishna Leela and even the epics, the narratives are based on text and art. Why must we keep one art away from the other? The written word and drawing are both art," she said.
Sheikh's works chronicle the changing face of feminist movement in India - especially in the artistic fraternity. "In the 1970s, I worked on paintings that were personal and domestic. I realised that male artists were not talking about domestic life and children. They were not painting their home. Bhupen Kakkar was the first to open windows to domestic life by talking about home in his art. I took a lot of cues from his work. But as a young artist, I did not realise that I was taking a feminist position. However, she contended that the word feminism should not be applied to their art.
"The 1980s witnessed feminisation of art because of the presence of so many strong women like Arpita Singh, Madhvi Parekh, Zareena Hashmi, Nalini Malani and Nasreen Mohamedi. The biggest change was the way men worked - they began to accept what was not accepted earlier. While working on the Champa series, Sheikh for the first time felt that the subject was impinging on her life.
"Champa was my neighbour's daughter, who was tortured and burnt for dowry. Terrorism and Kashmir also play crucial roles in Sheikh's art.
"I have been working on Kashmir for a long time for various reasons. I painted a whole series, 'The Country without a post-office', based on Shahid Ali's poetry. Born in New Delhi in 1945, Sheikh studied history at Delhi University (1962-65) and painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University at Vadodara (1965-71), where she taught between 1977 and 1981.
Sheikh is true to her medium casein tempera, a traditional paint used in Europe and Japan. The artist mixes her own pigments with glue and binder to create colours that remain for years on her hand-crafted art paper.