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Creative concerns

Tales of human tragedy take on an artistic and philosophical dimension in Sheela Gowda's works

Sheela's works echo an inherent agitation and muffled anxiety.

AN ARTIST of immense sensitivity, Sheela Gowda, in her on-going exhibition titled On Earth And In Heaven, effectively brings to light some of the uneasy and worrisome aspects of our troubled times. Even as her works echo an inherent agitation and muffled anxiety, Sheela adopts a creative approach and composed stance to delineate her concerns.

The opening work, titled Breaths, displays 18 pieces of disjointed, blackened logs of varying lengths and thickness, placed haphazardly on a long table. In an instant, the viewer is able to perceive that the logs are not mere scraps, but objects narrating a collective tale of a tragedy. Jutting out like burnt limbs, these logs are made by layering red strings, before covering them with black gauze and charcoal powder. The red strings, visible at the extreme ends of each piece, appear like nerve endings, adding an eerie feeling to the overall construct.

Struck by nature

A Blanket And The Sky is a compassionate symbol, which exposes the fragility of a road-laying worker's "home". Struck by the nature and materiality of this home, whose "dimensions are determined not by the need and comfort of the human body, but by the material that is used in its making", Sheela employs compacted layers of tar drums to construct her two-unit edifice and as in real life, the drums (rendered worthless after road construction) are opened up and flattened to make sheets. The openings to the homes are narrow, and their insides dark and murky. "But inside, on top of this unit, a single tar sheet gets cut up, like in origami, into a strange colony of similar units in a dark space," writes Sheela. "Above this, the darkness expands beyond its material confines, gets punctured to bring in the expanse of a star-studded night sky, a limitless expanse which never fails to evoke questions, and prompts reflection beyond the material, the visible into the philosophical."

Chimera is a fascinating work where the focus is once again on the tar drum. The drum holds its commonly seen cylindrical shape, but the lid is cut into a spiral that descends into its depths. The tip of the descending spiral is filled with mica and as Sheela explains, "the tar drum, a poor, common material, transforms into a container, a well, holding a chimera of associations that the moon's reflection, and water evokes."

Connecting creativity

The concluding piece, Sanjaya Narrates, adopts a moving newspaper photograph and interprets it as an assemblage of watercolour fragments, to evoke and heighten the feel of human tragedy. The title alludes to a moment in Mahabharata, when "Sanjaya, with the power of his vision, narrates the happenings on the war field to the blind king, Dhritarashtra, whose children are killing each other out there." The tragic implications of both wars — past and present — are connected creatively and symbolically.

(The exhibition concludes at Galleryske on August 30.)


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