'Sheher, Prakriti, Devi' an exhibition that marks artist and photographer Gauri Gill's first extensive curation

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'Sheher, Prakriti, Devi' an exhibition that marks artist and photographer Gauri Gill's first extensive curation
Mariam Suhail, Site Survey and Preparation (2023). From the project ‘Chhath ki Naqal Makaani, Chhath ki Naqal-o-hamal’ (Migration of Roof, Transportation of Roof). Carbon-paper transfer drawing on archival paper, 80 cm x 110 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Grey Noise.



DUBAI.- Ishara Art Foundation is preseting Sheher, Prakriti, Devi, an exhibition that marks artist and photographer Gauri Gill’s first extensive curation. Ruminating on the interwoven relationship between dynamic cities, the natural environment and the inseparable sacred, the show presents twelve artists and collectives working across diverse contexts of urban, rural, domestic, communitarian, public and non-material spaces.

Sheher, Prakriti, Devi comes from the Hindustani terms for ‘city’, ‘nature’ and ‘deity’. The exhibition germinates from Gill’s ongoing documentation of urban and semi-urban spaces in India since 2003 in a series titled ‘Rememory’ (after Toni Morrison). Gill offers a unique lens to regard cities as spaces of habitation that are shaped by multiple life-worlds. Together with various practitioners with whom she shares an affinity, the exhibition presents a world where built and natural structures are rendered porous by termites; gates open to unfinished roads; historical ruins become homes to migratory birds while pigeons become occupants of post-colonial houses; locusts bear witness to contemporary terrors and forests manifest as spirit sisters. In this show, viewers are invited to regard ecology as an overlap of cultural, natural and spiritual domains.

In Gill’s words, “Apart from the sheer beauty and multiple truths expressed by the different artists - from the mundane to the transcendental, the gross to the subtle, and, the manmade to the sacred – through this palimpsestic and idiosyncratic exhibition, I wish to acknowledge those who have found ways to stubbornly persist in their practice, often sharing their work only within their families and local communities, completely outside the circuits and networks of professional artists, contemporary art discourse, galleries and markets… Through this gathering of insistent voices we hope to consider the dualistic worlds of the depleted and regenerative, manmade and natural, colonial and Indigenous, young and old, English and non-English, mundane and magical, absent and present.”

Sheher, Prakriti, Devi includes works by Chamba Rumal, Chiara Camoni, Gauri Gill, Ladhki Devi, Mariam Suhail, Meera Mukherjee, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Rashmi Kaleka, Shefalee Jain, Sukanya Ghosh, Vinnie Gill and Yoshiko Crow.

Artworks for this exhibition have been loaned from the private collections of Anant Art, Akar Prakar, the Pundole Family Collection, the Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation, and the Ishara Art Foundation and the Prabhakar Collection.

Curator

Gauri Gill (b. 1970) was born in Chandigarh, and lives in Delhi, India. Gill’s practice is complex because it contains several lines of pursuit. These include a more than two-decade long engagement with marginalised communities in rural Rajasthan called Notes from the Desert, now a large photographic archive of rural India. She has explored human displacement and the migrant experience among South Asians in North America and Afghanistan in The Americans and What Remains. Projects such as the 1984 notebooks highlight her sustained belief in collaboration and ‘active listening’, and in using photography as a memory practice. Beginning in early 2013, Fields of Sight is an equal collaboration with the renowned Adivasi artist, Rajesh Vangad, combining the contemporary language of photography with the ancient one of Warli drawing to co-create new narratives. In Acts of Appearance (from 2015—ongoing), the artist has worked closely with the paper mache artists of the Kokna and Warli tribes in Maharashtra, using unique new masks to tell fictional stories improvised together of contemporary life in the village. Working in both black and white and colour, Gill addresses the Indian identity markers of caste, class and community as determinants of mobility and social behaviour. In her work there is empathy, surprise and a human concern over issues of survival.

Gill has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions within India and internationally since 1995, including the 58th Venice Biennale (2019) and Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel (2017). In 2022, her first major survey exhibition opened at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, and continued on to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, in 2023. Gill has recently published two books with Edition Patrick Frey about her collaborations with rural artists, ‘Acts of Appearance’ (2022) and ‘Fields of Sight’ (2023). In 2023, she was awarded the 10th Prix Pictet. Her work is in the collections of prominent institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Museum, London; Smithsonian Institution, Washington; Fotomuseum, Winterthur; and the Ishara Art Foundation and the Prabhakar Collection, Dubai.

Artists

Chiara Camoni (b. 1974) is an artist based in Fabbiano in the Apuan Alps in Versilia, Italy. Her practice consists of drawing, vegetal print-making, video and sculpture. Her works are often created together with friends and relatives, all of whom are members of an expanded studio that she refers to as the ‘Centri di Sperimentazione’, and open into impromptu associations, organised seminars and workshops, testing different forms of shared authorship. Together with other artists, she founded the MAGra, Contemporary Art Museum of Granara, and the Vladivostok group. She has been developing a cycle of seminars titled ‘La Giusta Misura’ with Cecilia Canziani for several years.

Chiara has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions since 2001 that include the Modern Art, Middlesbrough (2018); Arcade Gallery, London (2019); Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, Bordeaux (2021); CEAAC, Strasbourg (2021); SpazioA, Postoia (2022); Fondazione Rovati, Milan (2023); among others. Her works are in various collections such as the Institut d’Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes; Le Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain (FRAC), Bretagne; and the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, GAM, Torino.

Emily Avery Yoshiko Crow is an artist born in Boulder, Colorado, USA. She works with watercolour, natural sculpture, textiles, animation and film production design. Her art draws from religious iconography that restore mythic and mystical imagination into contemporary life. Crow was raised by her parents following the Shambhala tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. She studied Chinese Traditional Medicine in San Francisco at the ACTCM, and Fine Arts at Naropa University with Joan Anderson and Robert Spellman. After the completion of her formal education, she spent several years living between India, Nepal and Canada. In these years, she studied Indian miniature painting with master painter Mahaveer Swami in Bikaner, and the art of Indigo dying, Shibori and Katagami, with Bryan Whitehead in Japan. Emily was the Production Designer for Khyentse Norbu’s films ‘Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait’ (2016), ‘Looking for Lady with Fangs and a Moustache’ (2019), and ‘Pig at the Crossing’ (2022). She moves across time zones and boundaries, exploring the intersection of humans, nature, spirituality and the unseen world.

Ladhki Devi (b. 1955) lives in Sakhre village, Maharashtra, India, and is a practitioner of Warli art. Her practice comprises of ephemeral drawings made of rice-flour paste on earth depicting goddesses, gods and all forms of life. It is an art she observed closely while growing up around her mother and grandmother who were both Suvasinis, a title given to married women who help conduct wedding rituals. Devi is also the mother and first teacher of the accomplished Warli practitioner Rajesh Chaitya Vangad, with whom Gauri Gill has been collaborating since 2013. For Gill’s exhibition ‘Sheher, Prakriti, Devi’ at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai (2021), Devi was invited to make work outside the context of the village as a fellow practitioner of contemporary art. Devi’s style is fluid. The intuitive nature of her work comes from her lived experience and years of devotional drawing. Her works are in the Ishara Art Foundation and the Prabhakar Collection, Dubai.

Sukanya Ghosh (b. 1973) lives and works between Delhi and Calcutta, India. Ghosh’s practice spans painting, animation, photography and moving images. The minutiae of urban life, popular culture and collective memory form the basis of her art-making, reflecting the dynamic transformation of cities and the life that pulsates within them.

She has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions that include the Lianzhou Museum of Photography, China (2019); Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah (2021); VAICA: Indian Contemporary Video Art Festival (2021); the Rencontres d'Arles (2022); the Tabakalera, San Sebastian (2022); and Cymroza Gallery, Mumbai (2023). She is a recipient of the Charles Wallace India Trust Award.

Vinnie Gill (b. 1946) was born in Jhansi and lives in Delhi, India. Her interest in nature was first kindled as a child in her grandparents’ cottage in their Garden House in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh. During her subsequent studies in Shimla and Dalhousie, she took a keen interest in the art classes and drew obsessively in her textbooks. This led to a lifelong practice of creating diaries comprising of drawings of trees, flowers, birds and animals, mountains, rivers, old tombs and occasionally spiritual iconography. Having learned the fundamentals of drawing and painting in school and college, she later experimented on her own with different mixed media techniques including pastels, Chinese pigment paints, Rotring pens, watercolours, acrylics and oil paints, slowly developing her own style of work. On her travels she would take along a sketchpad, sheets of rice paper, or handmade paper along with pencils, pens and colours to record her journeys visually. Although she has not exhibited formally, her diary and study at home have provided a place of refuge and solace in times of grief and upheaval, and remain a consistent practice for over six decades shared only with an intimate circle of family and friends. Her works were exhibited as part of Gauri Gill’s exhibition ‘Sheher, Prakriti, Devi’ at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai (2021).

Shefalee Jain (b. 1979) is an artist, illustrator and educator based in Delhi, India. Through her art practice and research, she attempts to interrogate the construction and reiteration of normative constructs in contexts such as modern medicine, children's educational material and visual culture. She has had various solo and group exhibitions in Bangalore, Bombay, Delhi, Hyderabad, Vadodara since 2006.

Shefalee is the co-founder of BlueJackal, an independently run platform for engaging with, creating, and publishing visual narratives. She is also the co-founder and co-editor of the zine ‘Drawing Resistance’, a collaborative crowdfunded publication that was founded in response to and in support of the nationwide protests in India against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). She has illustrated several children’s books for publishers that include Tulika, Eklavya and Muskaan, and she regularly writes a column on art for young readers in Chakmak, a magazine published by Eklavya in Bhopal. Shefalee holds a PhD in Visual Art from the Ambedkar University, Delhi, and was an Assistant Professor of Visual Art at the School of Culture and Creative Expressions (SCCE) at the university from 2012 to 2022.

Rashmi Kaleka (b. 1957) was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and lives and works in New Delhi, India. She is an artist and an urban farmer whose practice draws from her observations and understanding of nature through sounds, visuals, and patterns of habitation and growth across different species. She has been studying and researching permaculture and is the founder of Farm8, a community farming project situated in Delhi NCR. Kaleka’s practice is also informed by sound, going back to her childhood in Kenya where the rhythm and intonation of Swahili, Punjabi and the tribal dialects of her grandparents permeated her consciousness.

Her work has been part of various exhibitions that include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei (2011); the Kulthuhuset, Stockholm (2011); the Helsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki (2012); and the ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen (2012).

Meera Mukherjee (1923 - 1998) was born in Calcutta, in pre-partition India. Her practice drew inspiration from the ordinary lives that surrounded her, including those of fishermen, weavers, and darners, all of whom were not only subjects for her work but also at times collaborators. She developed her own technique of making wax sculptures after her lifelong exploration of metal-casting techniques used by artisanal communities across different parts of India to western academic methods.

Meera received her initial training in art at the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Calcutta, following which she studied painting, graphics and sculpture at the Delhi Polytechnic (currently the Delhi Technology University). Following her first solo exhibition in 1952, she received an Indo-German Fellowship in 1953 at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, where she had the mentorship of Toni Stadler and Heinrich Kirchner. After her return to India in 1957, she took on positions as an art teacher in different schools, subsequently moving to Bastar in Chhattisgarh, India, where she learned the lost-wax casting technique under the apprenticeship of the Indigenous artists of the region. In recent years, her works have been exhibited and published widely as an artist whose work navigates the plurality of forces that shaped a world in a moment of transition.

Mrinalini Mukherjee (1949 – 2015) was born in Mumbai, India. A committed sculptor all her life, she worked extensively with fibre, ceramic and bronze. Mukherjee had an abiding interest in nature and her knowledge of Indian sculpture, folk art, modern design, and local crafts and textiles underlie her artistic sensibility. Her practice transgressed art-historical categories of abstraction, figuration, realism and the artisanal, undoing the distinction between the traditional and the modern.

Mrinalini had studied Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, thereafter, completing a Post Diploma in Mural Design from the same university under the mentorship of artist K.G. Subramanyan. Over her lifetime, she exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1994); the Asia Pacific Triennale, Brisbane (1996); Vadehra Art Gallery (2007); the Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Valencia (2008); The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Delhi (2012); Nature Morte Gallery, Delhi (2013); Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (2013); Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju (2014); National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi (2015); and Metropolitan Museum of Art (2019). Mukherjee's work is part of public collections at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford; the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Tate Modern, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Ishara Art Foundation and the Prabhakar Collection, Dubai. The artist's personal archive is digitised and accessible on Asia Art Archive's website and her works are under the care of the Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation in Delhi.

Mariam Suhail (b. 1979) was born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and lives and works in Bangalore, India. Her work stems from the incidental, undocumented minutia of everyday conversations, media and culture at large. Her practice deals with the complexities of language, dissecting and re-presenting what lies in the spaces between images, words, sounds and material. Her work spans various media that include sculpture, video, digital images, books, text and drawing.

Mariam’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions that include shows in Grey Noise, Dubai; GALLERYSKE, Delhi and Bangalore; 56th Venice Biennale (2015); Berlin Biennale 8 (2014); the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2022-23); and the Dhaka Art Summit (2016). Mariam has also contributed to publications like Shifter 21 – Other Spaces (2013), Paessagio’s Coral Issue by Blauer Hase (2016) and Silicon Plateau - Volume 2 (2019).

Chamba Rumal is a narrative art-form from the hill state of Himanchal Pradesh, India. Comprising of embroidered handkerchiefs that go back to the Chamba kingdom in the 17th century, the art was inspired from the Pahari school of miniature painting and flourished as a collaboration between embroiderers that consist of women working alongside miniature painters. This art was revived by the Delhi Craft Council in 1996. The rumals (handkerchiefs) presented in the exhibition were made over a twenty-month collaboration between miniature artists and embroiderers at CHARU, the Delhi Craft Council’s Centre in Chamba, and designer Swati Kalsi. The embroiderers include Masto Devi, Tulsi Devi, Uma Devi, Jyoti Bala, Bindu Devi, Pushpa Devi, Pooja, Nagina, Garima, alongside painters Mohan Prajapat and Shhilpaguru Babulal Maroitia.

Ishara Art Foundation
Sheher, Prakriti, Devi
January 19th, 2023 –June 1st, 2024
Curated by Gauri Gill, in dialogue with Sabih Ahmed










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