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Artist Profile3
A sensitive practitioner who deals with gender, violence, ecology and other social issues
Artist Sheba Chhachhi is known to work with intriguing lens based images, both moving and still. Her practice investigates issues related to gender, violence, ecology and visual culture. It also addresses the concerns and questions of personal and collective memory, transformation, striving to retrieve the marginal, and the interplay between the mythic and social elements. A staunch chronicler of the women's movement in India, the photographer-activist starting with development of collaborative, staged photographic portraits in the early 90's, has gradually moved on to photo-based installations.

The socially sensitive practitioner places the photographic image in space with varied mediums and forms like video, text sound, light and objects. Her innovative artistic language involves the moving image light box that employs a series of both still and moving layers of photographic images, generating an amazing cinematic effect. An important part of her practice is public art interventions, in New Delhi and elsewhere.

Born in 1958 in Harar (Ethiopia), Sheba Chhachhi studied at Delhi University, Chitrabani, Kolkatta and later the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmadabad. Her work has been exhibited widely in several countries, including India, Japan, South America, Europe and the US over almost last two decades. She has also done extensive writings, given talks, held workshops, conducted research and projects on urban ecologies, visual culture, women, conflict and contemporary art practice in South Asia. She lives and works in New Delhi.

Among her selected solos are ‘Luminarium: A Prelude’, Volte Gallery, Mumbai (2011); ‘Bhogi/Rogi’ (Consumption/Disease), Interactive video intervention, Public Art, Delhi (2010-11); ‘”The Space Between’, Galleria Paolo Curti /Annamaria Gambuzzi & Co, Milan (2009); ‘Winged Pilgrims & Other Creatures’, Walsh Gallery, Chicago (2009); ‘The Water Diviner’, 48 Degrees Celsius, Public Art Project, New Delhi (2008); ‘Winged Pilgrims: A Chronicle from Asia, Bose Pacia, New York, USA (2008-07); ‘Ganga's Daughters: meetings with women ascetics’, Nature Morte, Delhi (2004); ‘When the gun is raised, dialogue stops…’, India Habitat Centre, Delhi, India (2000).

Her recent selected group show participations include 'Staging Selves: Power, Performativity & Portraiture', Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai (2011); 'Asianart: Sustain', Nature Morte, Berlin (2011); 'High-Light' courtesy Sakshi Gallery at The Oberoi, Gurgaon (2011); ‘Samdigt (Concurrence)’, Kulturhuset, Stockholm & City Art Museum, Helsinki; ‘Concepts and Ideas’, CIMA, Kolkata; ‘Excresence’, Guild Art, Mumbai; ‘Of Gods & Goddesses, Cinema, Cricket: New cultural Icons of India’ courtesy RPG Academy; ‘Against All Odds’, Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), Delhi; ‘Finding India’, MOCA, Taipei; ‘Salon Precaire- Delhi’, Forumandermusik, Switzerland; ‘Respiro’, Fondazione Zoë, Vicenza; ‘Waterways’, Walsh Gallery, Chicago; ‘Urban Manners 2’, SESC Pompeia, Sao Paulo, Brazil; ;Where Three Dreams Cross - 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh;, Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK & FotoMuseum Winterthur; ‘Against Exclusion;, 3rd Moscow Biennale; ‘Viewpoints and Viewing points’, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei; ‘Lo Real Marvelliso’, LKA, Gallery Espace, Delhi; ‘Ventosul Biennale’, Curitiba, Brazil.

The artist is in spotlight for her thought-provoking artwork ‘Water Diviner’ that has found her a place among the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize finalists this year. The APB Foundation Signature Art Prize in conjunction with the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) acts as a prominent platform for both established artists as well as emerging talents. It reflects developments in the contemporary art landscape of this region. Out of the 130 nominated works of art, 15 have been chosen by the elite jury panel as Finalists including the one by Sheba Chhachhi. Providing a backgrounder to it, an essay by Alexander Keefe mentions: “The work evokes a complex way of thinking about the (Yamuna) river - not just as a hydrological problem to be managed, a pollution issue to be dealt with–and also not just as a goddess to be worshiped by devotees oblivious to the way that industrial and commercial development together conspire to destroy her body—but crucially both: somehow bringing these twinned notions into taboo wedlock.

“The images she uses in the work, the dreamlike fragments from paintings painfully juxtaposed with the nightmare filth that the river is forced to carry, pull us into a consideration of the bulldozers waiting to enact the riverfront's latest re-enchantment, its newest triumphalism - transformation into a level ‘village’ for the Commonwealth Games - and the biggest temple in the world cum IMAX theater that presaged its arrival, that bathed the whole endeavor in a preemptive sacred glow. How fitting that the artist conjures such visions in this dark forgotten room, itself the object of so many damp, half-complete re-inscriptions. A short walk to the south of the library takes you to Chandni Chowk, its erstwhile central canal lying entombed in stone, its waters blocked, diverted and shit in, forced underground. And yet. Fugitive streams still spill dirty in the black Yamuna and together they take flight to the Ganga and the ocean, carrying with them all the filth of man's endeavor, and the bodies the whole enterprise dumps so casually into its flow…”

According to the artist, the installation draws upon the concept of dowsing for the memory of water. It itself becomes an instrument, akin to the rod used by water diviners, to sense the presence of water deep below the earth. Within this sub-aquatic environment the viewer reads the subterranean histories and mythologies of water murmuring below the crowded streets, congested rooms and ceaseless rivers of traffic. She elaborates in a statement: “Our relationship to water as residents in rapidly changing metropolitan cities is that of dependence, mainly for daily needs. Issues of access, control, distribution, along with the horrific possibilities of scarcity, further make us into desperate consumers, trying to access our share of a decreasingly available commodity.

“On the other hand, ideas about the sacredness of water, its life-giving, purifying, and magical qualities are embedded in local mythologies, even though religious rituals have also become commodified. The rich, abundant, active symbology of water informs the multiple cultures that inhabit the city even today. Water, as conceptualized in Indian culture has “constituted a dynamic play across terrestrial and symbolic-celestial networks, ranging from the meteorological to the mytho-poetic, religious and mercantile”. This expanded view needs to be recuperated from mechanical ritual and short-term self interest. Is it possible to recover experiences and memories of water that go beyond consumption?”

Time-based media of the installation, visual as well as auditory, creates an immersive experience within the pool. The work probes the sedimentation of time and memory, to calibrate an imaginary geography of water, and all the viewers-participants are prompted to become a water diviner.