For Sheela Gowda the social and cultural reality of India has formed the basis of her practice. Initially trained as a painter, since the 1990’s she has increasingly developed a sculptural and installation practice that explores how materials can make specific reference to the social and cultural context of India.
Gowda’s use of unconventional materials is a highly evocative element of her practice, where the tactile qualities of thread, hair, traditional dyes, pattern and weaving, bring the viewer’s attention to a meaning that transposes these elements into social objects and practices located within a network of production and distribution, framed in relation to India’s socio-political legacy.
Her work is both sensual and unsettling, conjuring some of the darkest aspects of human experience, where poetically invested materials evoke what the artist refers to as “the insidious nature of violence, overt and inside us in our psychic makeup”. Gowda’s ongoing inquiry into the political and social intricacies of India, traditions of labour, inequity and oppression, creates a richness of meaning woven into a fabric of strength and reclaimed identity.
Artes Mundi 5 Exhibition
Sheela Gowda has developed an art practice that explores how materials can make specific reference to the social and cultural context of India. Heartland is a newspaper photograph depicting a suspected naxalite-Maoist insurgent who has been captured by the Indian military. The insurgency is an ongoing conﬂict as naxalites look to protect the land rights of the state’s most underpriviledged inhabitants against government rural development. Rather than directly referencing the politics of the situation, Gowda concentrates on the insurgent in the image. By leaving him in stark monochrome and painting his captors and the background in camouﬂage, she highlights his defiance and vulnerability, contrasting different ideologies of the state and individual.
In contrast to the intimate scale of Heartland, Kagebangara is a large installation. It comprises tar drums, sourced from Indian road workers, alongside yellow and blue plastic tarpaulins to create an abstract sculpture. Closer inspection, however, reveals Gowda’s ability to subtly reference the source materials original use, which in this case brings shelters like those built by the migrant construction workers along the roadside, into the gallery space.