Gowda

BY CSMI STAFF WRITER

Sheela Gowda is an artist living and working in Bangalore, India. 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.

Now she is known for producing large-scale installation art in which she transforms everyday materials through hand-worked processes. The emphasis on process can be linked to local traditions of craft and the role of labour in making art.

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, Gowda 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. 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.