Nilima Sheikh is first artist selected for Kochi Biennale 2018
Kochi, Dec 12: Versatile and provocative painter Nilima Sheikh, whose illustrious body of works is a scorching portrayal of the turmoil in Kashmir valley and a mystical depiction of women-centric issues, has become the first artist to get the curator’s nod for the fourth edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), which begins exactly a year later -- December 12, 2018.
Anita Dube, the curator of the upcoming KMB that is hosted by the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF), announced Sheikh’s name today, formally setting in motion the process of selection of her artists for the high-profile contemporary art event that has redefined the cultural landscape in Kerala and India.
During her over five-decade career, the 72-year-old Vadodara-based painter has produced an incredibly magnificent oeuvre, wielding her brush to make an intense depiction of subjects, with particular emphasis on Kashmir, Partition and displacement. Her strength also lies in the portrayal of grimness of contemporary life like oppressive patriarchy and the silent suffering of women that crack social fabric and she does it through use of traditional idioms and motifs.
A historian by training before she focused her attention on the canvas, Sheikh delved into the history of Kashmir, and believes that the valley’s turmoil “is owing to our lack of understanding (of the place and people there) as Indians…The artist’s role is to bear witness - to both the past and present.”
“The tender compassion in the paintings of Nilima Sheikh, in their quiet grandeur, aligns the feminine with the mystic and subversive strains in our tradition. She is a voice we must listen to, especially in these violent troubled times,” said Anita Dube.
Hailing the selection of Sheikh, KBF President Bose Krishnamanchari said, “The Kochi Biennale Foundation is thrilled that we are able to make this announcement on 12/12/17, exactly a year to the day the next edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale will start. Curator Anita Dube's intentions and ideas for KMB 2018 are reflected in Nilima Sheikh, the first artist she's presenting of the lineup. I can see in her choice reflections of the socially and politically sensitive aesthetics that Anita would bring to KMB-2018.”
Heavily inspired by the literary works of Rabindranath Tagore, Sheikh became interested at an early age in the connection between stories and images, between murals and ancient manuscripts. Beyond appropriating traditional techniques in her paintings, she works with figure and narration in her practice, which has famously translated into theatre sets such as Umrao as well as children’s books.
Her works are rooted in Eastern painting traditions such as miniature painting and oral traditions of vernacular folk songs. For her paintings, she drew inspiration from artists like Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and K G Subramanyan. Through her own life experiences, Sheikh continues to create bodies of work that evoke mystical imaginary landscapes that address feminine experiences.
Her most recent work, titled Terrain: Carrying Across, Leaving Behind, was produced for Documenta 14, a leading global exhibition held in Kassel (Germany) every five years.
The artist also includes song and poetry as a performative mode of public address, echoing the 14th century female mystic Lal Dĕd of Kashmir (translated by Ranjit Hoskote), along with references to texts from several writers who have written about Kashmir such as Aga Shahid Ali and Salman Rushdie.