Inspirational Woman – Sheela Gowda 

Sheela Gowda is an artist living and working in Bangalore, India. Ms Gowda studied painting at Ken School of Art, Banglore, India and pursued a post Graduate Diploma at Visva – Bharati University, Shantiniketan and a MA in painting from the Royal College of Art in London. She began painting in her early career but started to make three-dimensional work in the 1990s in reaction to the rapid progress of economic and cultural development in India.

Trained as a painter Ms. Gowda expanded her practice into sculpture and installation employing a diversity of material like human hair, cow-dung, incense and kumkuma powder (a natural pigment most often available in brilliant red). She is known for her ‘process-orientated’ work, often inspired by the everyday labor experiences of marginalized people in India. Her work is associated with postminimalism drawing from ritualistic associations. Her early oils with pensive girls in nature were influenced by her mentor K. G. Subramanyan, and later ones by Nalini Malani towards a somewhat expressionistic direction depicting a middle class chaos and tensions underplayed by coarse eroticism. She is the recipient of the 2019 Maria Lassnig Prize.

Ms. Gowda is known for producing large-scale installation art in which she transforms everyday materials through hand-worked processes. Ms. Gowda has used and transformed common yet symbolic materials, including human hair, incense, cow dung and red kumkum powder. These materials are associated with everyday rituals in India. She also works with architectural and found materials, wood, metal and stone.

In 2006, she made Darkroom out of rusted tar drums from her hometown. These were assembled into a two-metre tall hut which the audience could enter. The structure suggested the informal architecture of slums, but once inside was transformed. Ms. Gowda pierced the structure with holes to let in light, recreating the effect of a night sky. The humble materials of the piece reflect the economic deprivation in developing countries, yet their transformation into a starry nightscape reminds us of the universality of hope and aspiration. 

And Tell Him of My Pain 1998 consists of a group of red cords dangling and winding their way around an empty room. A closer look shows the cords to be made of many threads, coated and bound together with kumkum or red vermilion powder, used to symbolically mark the foreheads of married Hindu women. Each thread has been passed through a needle which cluster at the end of the coiled ropes. Every needle in And Tell Him of My Pain had the entire length of a three hundred and sixty feet piece of thread pulled through it. The work evokes sinister bodily references, looping vessels and internal organs, but also the forms of labour by women that are increasingly marginalised and undervalued in present-day India.

Ms. Gowda had her first solo show at Iniva, London, entitled Therein and Besides in 2011.She was a finalist for the Hugo Boss Award in 2014.She creates apocalyptic landscapes using materials such as incense and kumkuma drawing a direct relationship between the labor practices of the incense industry and its treatment of women. Her works portrayed the condition of the women which is often defined by the load of their work, mental barriers and sexual violation.

Ms. Gowda moved into installation and sculpture in the 1990s in response to the changing political landscape in India. She had her first solo show at Iniva, London, entitled Therein and Besides in 2011. Her works portrayed the condition of the women which is often defined by the load of their work, mental barriers and sexual violation.

In the early 1990s, her visual language changed decisively:  this upheaval was not foreign to the questions raised, among many artists, by the violence following the destruction of a mosque in Ayodhya. Her work became less figurative; she experimented with new materials and diversified the media she used. The use of cow dung thus became more systematic and subversive:  like a decorative and combustible plaster, this material is linked both to the daily round of Indian women and to the sacred nature of the cow; in evoking the day-to-day, the ritual and matters religious, it was used in the artist’s work for its metaphorical potential, just like kumkum, a natural vermillion paste which decorates the parting in women’s hair, with which she coated the threads of the installation And Tell Him of My Pain (1998-2001); when passed through needles, they become ropes similar to lines arranged in space.

Image Source: India Content


Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

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In the year 2021, we wrote about 1000 Inspirational Women In India, in the year 2022, we would be featuring 5000 Start Up Stories.

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