Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ravaged landscape of picturesque Kashmir inspires this sensitive artist

Though Nilima Sheikh grew up in the capital city of India, Kashmir has invariably had a place in her heart. Incidentally, she spent her early years in the land, blessed with pristine beauty and cursed with endless violence, and had shared a sort of curiously vexed relationship with it. Nilima Sheikh’s series ‘Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams’ took eight long years to fructify.

The show almost got shelved. As its opening neared, the Kashmir Valley flared up in fresh violence. The distraught artist decided to cancel the event, asking, ‘what meaning does it really have, given the reality?’ However, photographer Ram Rahman and others Sahmat members made her to change the mind. Commenting on the complex history of the state, she states, “The turmoil is owing to our lack of understanding (of the place and people there) as Indians. For example, even while most of us know about Kashmir’s rich Hindu and Islamic heritage, few are aware of Buddhism’s deep imprint of there. The artist’s role is to bear witness - to both the past and present.”

For several years, Nilima Sheikh has assiduously and actively engaged with the historical fates and trajectories of turbulent landscape. In her work inspired by Kashmir’s ravaged landscape, there is a deft blending of historical textual references and medieval verses, contemporary writing and folktales from/on the state. Visual references originate from Himalayan, Turkish, Persian, South Asian and at times even pre-Renaissance Italian art. What emerges from this intense exploration is a series of introspective works on paper and scrolls on canvas.

After the inner turmoil that she experienced post the Gujarat riots in 2002, she was spurred o take up a long-pending art project that dealt with the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali’s soul-stirring verses full of pain that inspired it. Nilima Sheikh won’t term references in her work as religious, but more art historical in nature, all part of a history that we tend to term tradition or mythology. Actually it is history, part of one’s past, she explains, adding that it’s not merely western art history.

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