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Artist Profile1
Understanding Sheba Chhachhi’s visual and intellectual realm
An installation artist, photographer, activist, and writer, artist Sheba Chhachhi combs through piles of photo-images in an effort to search for the ideal image in her mind’s eye. She belongs to a new generation of artists from the country, skillfully combining imagery and references to traditional Indian culture with more contemporary concerns, negotiating the slippery terrains of identity, globalization and cultural inheritance.

Born in 1958 in Ethiopia, the artist moved around and grasped nuances of art in New Delhi, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. In 1980, she started doing documentary photography, to build a body of work on the women’s movement in India. In the process, questions about the politics of representation prompted her to experiment with alternative photographic practice.

She came up with a series of constructed portraits in collaboration with various women activists. Social niceties notwithstanding, she relates to ‘women on the edges’. She has published writings, given talks and conducted workshops, research, and projects relating to women issues, conflict, urban technologies, visual culture and contemporary practice in India and South Asia.

She started working with multimedia installations in 1993, making use of photographs, text, sculpture, and found objects.

The idea was to investigate and articulate the history, experience, and power of feminine consciousness. Her recent work synthesizes video, sound and light with more physical materials.

Her shows have been held in the various leading galleries of India, and internationally, including the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Cuba, China, Japan and the U.S. She was among the artists featured at Thermocline of Art - New Asian Waves, a show at ZKM, Germany, in 2007. Earlier this year she was part of a significant show ‘Contradictions and Complexities: Contemporary Art from India’ that included six female artists from India, at d.e.n contemporary at Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA.

Bose Pacia hosted her series ‘Winged Pilgrims: A Chronicle’ in December at their gallery premises located in the Chelsea district of New York City. It is a multi-part installation (including sculptures, lightboxes, and a recorded soundtrack, playing s throughout the gallery space) that present various iconographies like birds, landscapes, and robed figures whose interplay conveys a history of migration.

The migration in question is cultural, philosophical, personal and theoretical. It can be seen as a meditation on the expanse and intricacies of globalization.

Perhaps the most poignant element in this installation, her lightboxes imitate the 'Plasma Action Electronic TV toy.' A Chinese-made toy, a low-tech impersonation of an electronic plasma television, it is sold in many small Indian marketplaces. An image-on-roller continuously loops to give the impression of a moving-image television.

The artist terms them ‘a metaphor for current forms of globalized exchange, which enact mediated shifts from the artisanal to the inexpensive electronic assembly.’ She has created a series of imaginary landscapes, digital tapestries that weave together references culled from Indian sculpture, the Persian/ Mughal miniature, Chinese brush painting and documentary photography to inhabit these moving image lightboxes.

It is an innovative take on the issues related to new media and globalization. By exploring the sort of reverse evolution of digital technology and migration, she makes space for a discussion of globalization. As she mentions: “This work configures a spatial, temporal and conceptual field within which the movement of ideas, objects, forms across Asia - with China and India as significant nodes - is articulated through three key elements that are simultaneously material and metaphoric: Birds, the robes of Buddhist Pilgrims and the 'Plasma Action' Electronic T.V. toy.”

The pilgrim and the plasma action toy are bookends of the series of movements that produce a take on globalization. The moving images, the traversal of space and time, the tension between mechanical and conventional video time, the articulation of the space between movement and stillness—all these are the temporal elements intrinsic to the repetitions and reproductions at the center of the global exchanges the work seeks to explore.

The artist herself has an affinity to the pilgrim. She is a seeker, a witness and a traveler who seeks to offer a space that elicits a quality of attention, an examination of the global circulations of our metaphoric histories and their significance to us today.