Among the third generation artists drawing influences from Indian traditions, Nilima Sheikh is one of the most powerful feminine presence. Nilima’s recent show mounted by the Chemould Prescott Road at the Lalit Kala Akademi’s gallery at Delhi has showcased nine canvas scrolls from the show under the same title earlier in the Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai.
An artist known for painterly and graceful qualities, Nilima’s ciphers are undemanding and reflective; whereas her subject matter is more emotional. Her earlier works like What Happened that Day III carry, Route II and III Planter from her show ‘Drawing Trails’ are her earlier approach to thematize violence and terror, trauma, grief of common mass. Kashmir no longer poses that old picturesque Bollywood imageries in our minds, rather creates a chill down the spine. The artist says, “The other daunting aspect about painting Kashmir is that it is currently torn by violence and strife. An extreme concern is to undo a few stereotypes that pervade the perception of the valley.” A non-stop struggle against the state by the common mass and the bullets piercing many of their bodies have become a regular news-strip. Kashmir, since independence has been constantly searching for their identity amidst the state sponsored brutality, rape, murder and physical-mental abuse by the armed forces in the name of AFSPA or something else. Nilima’s scrolls have representations of Kashmir in various shapes and forms in her own characteristic narrative as well as mystic language. The traditional motifs of marvel carving and weaving patterns have found their places as decorative jewels like that the miniatures in her works. Nilima’s stencilled motifs emphasize the textile-like quality of the surface, with architectural volume rendered through the arrangement of flat areas of geometric patterning in a manner recalling the work of legendary Persian miniaturist Bizhad.
The allegorical characters of her works are not only cantered around the grieving, crying and dying people but also the people farming, smoking or chatting as daily activities are represented along with the fantastic animals and birds. Nilima wants to remember the extinct and newly revived folk performing tradition called Bhand Pathar as her reference point for the characters in her paintings. Different technique of painting appeals Nilima, like miniature to the construction of an architectural scale or from conventionally hung paintings to scrolls and screens for theatrical set ups. Her work has overlapped many traditions, from the Japanese Ukiyo-e to Rajput and Mughal miniatures. About the process Nilima herself says, “by copying earlier images (historical miniatures) with my hands and interpreting them through my mind I can make history my own.”
Her scrolls in the show were hung in the gallery like no other two-dimensional paintings but like theatre drops or wings from the ceiling. The works displayed in the show are self-explanatory with the text sourced from important pieces of literature. The display had made the viewer walk around the works to be able to find out the textual references of her works and the entire series which are inscribed at the back of each scroll. References from Agha Shahid Ali to Salman Rushdie and from Chitralekha Zutshi to Basharat Peer finds its way into Nilima’s works.
Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams, Nilima Sheikh, 29 March – April 30, 2010, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai