‘Drawing Trails’ by Nilima Sheikh

A new series of works on paper by Nilima Sheikh is on view at Gallery Espace, New Delhi. In her characteristic style, the senior artist engages with violence, grief and trauma through a careful positioning of diverse techniques and histories.

According to the curatorial note to the show, “Nilima Sheikh uses the mediation of the written word to convey her views. 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 in the face of sectarian violence and state brutality, her language works its way through art histories of visual traditions, particularly of Asia.”

Regarding her creative processes, the artist has quipped, “I make use of miniature painting technology rather than using technique, since I employ methods, materials and pigments that are very much part of the modern vocabulary. The problem for me was essentially to seek a voice in the miniature painting, which conversed with me. The only way one could create one’s space was to rebel against the prevalent modernism.”

The artist has also worked in a larger format. She recalls how she drew pleasure from working on a much larger scale owing to the saturation of color, and the kind of creations where one uses one’s body. She elaborates, “There’s an emotional relationship to the body, which is quite satisfying. I indeed enjoy scale.”

Having spent almost all of her student and professional life in Baroda, she acknowledges her debt to teachers like K.G. 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. She has stated in an interview, “K.G. Subramanyan had a fundamental influence on my art. He was the main resource of my enchanting discovery of Indian traditions.”

Born in New Delhi in 1945, Sheikh studied History at Delhi University (1962-65) and Painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda (1965-71). She taught painting at the Faculty between 1977 and 1981. The artist has traveled and lectured on Indian art across the globe.

Nilima Sheikh had her first solo in 1983, and has showcased her work widely over the last two and a half decades, including shows at Pundole Gallery, Mumbai (1984); ‘Song, Water, Air’, Gallery Espace, New Delhi (1993); ‘Song-Space’, Gallery Chemould, at Max Muller Bhavan, Mumbai (1995); ‘Garden for Mother’, Sakshi Gallery, Bangalore (1998); Galerie FIA, Foundation for Indian Artists, Amsterdam (1998); ‘Conversations with Tradition’, Asia Society, New York (2001); and ‘The Country Without A Post Office’, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai (2003). ‘Drawing Trails’ at Gallery Espace comes after a gap of six years.

Her interest in theatre design resulted in several visual design and set design assignments in addition to her studio practice, which has embraced various kinds of styles of painting - from the hand-held miniature to the construct at an architectural scale, and from conventionally hung paintings to scrolls and screens.

Usually blending her colours from pigment with casein or other tempera mediums, there is a sensuous immediacy in the artist’s poetic representations of the everyday and the supra-mundane. She often constructs the surface of her works with the stencils made by the traditional Sanjhi artists of Mathura.

Summing up her artistic philosophy, Nilima Sheikh states, “I am truly interested in relating history to myself and by copying earlier images with my hands and then interpreting them through my mind I am able to make history my own.”

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