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The World is Flat

Sheba Chhachhi’s experiential multi-dimensional works, created over 25 years, are recontextualised in her latest book.

Written by Pallavi Pundir |
Updated: March 11, 2016 12:00:09 am

 Sheba Chhachhi, The Water Diviner, Khoj Studios, Delhi,  indian express talk, indian express

There are several moments of deja vu when one looks at artist Sheba Chhachhi’s work. Bundles of books create the sculptural unit of her installation The Water Diviner (2008), as deep-blue light permeates through a dark room, with images of an elephant floating in the water, harking back to the mythological tale of cowherd god Balaram finding solace in the cold waters of the Yamuna. In Neelkanth (2000/2003/ 2008), the blue-throated god takes on the five senses — smell, sight, hearing, touch and taste — in toxic Delhi, in the form of a sea of installations wherein images appear and morph.

“There are two things critical to my work, light and movement,” says Chhachhi, as she sits in the living room of her residence in Defence Colony. To add to the impact, the 56-year-old switches on a video installation on the wall. The silhouette of a woman appears, glowing against a vertical movement of text and texture. “I often use animated lightboxes as a device to slow people down, to create a certain quality of attention. The movement can be almost hypnotic,” she says. How difficult does it get, then, to shrink the interactivity of her works into the flat frame of her book? “That, for a long time, was the most difficult part,” she says.

Arc Silt Dive (Tulika Books in collaboration with Volte Art Gallery, Rs 4,975) will be launched this Saturday at Khoj Studios, Delhi. She is keen to see the reaction of the audience who have long been exposed to the immersive quality of her work. “It has taken a lot of time and a lot of work, where we have tried to build a flow, a movement through ideas and images, which then gather together as an experiential journey,” she says. The artist was an activist and a photographer until 1991, known largely for chronicling the women’s movement in India and re-examining the way women are represented in documentary photography. She moved to art thereafter. The book, however, follows no chronology. Instead, it relies on “more associative” themes to invite the reader into Chhachhi’s world.

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Arc Silt Dive, almost like a retrospective, begins with The Water Diviner, symbolising what Chhachhi is known for — pre-modern imagery, stories and connecting to present dilemmas. Except here, the book breaks down every detail of the work, instead of a wholesome first glance. “You are led into each work; you look at the detail and take pleasure in the unfolding of the artwork, one step at a time,” she says.
Chhachhi’s seminal work, mostly lightbox-based around ecological conditions, feature in the book. Her perpetual concerns around Yamuna, for instance, find the abused river in Black Waters Will Burn (2011), a public art project created on the riverbank.

Works such as When the Gun is Raised, Dialogue Stops…Women’s Voices from Kashmir, which gathers testimonies between 1994 and 2000, and Initiation Chronicle (1998-2001), about women ascetics bring forth the artist’s contribution to a movement that continues even today. “I often revisit images or ideas in a recursive mode, finding new meanings and iterations.”

The book also includes essays by scholar Kumkum Sangari and art critics and curators Gayatri Sinha and Nancy Adajania. Sangari’s evaluation of Chhacchi locates her in the domain of anthropocene, while Adajania and Sinha’s essays focus on the artist’s extensive work in the context of the ’80s. “My work is responsive to what’s around me, and I am interested in speaking with people and inviting people to think. So that is the true intention of the book,” she says, who is working on a new series, on pain.

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