Modern Painters | review Sheela Gowda (Berlin | DE)
DAAD Gallery | Berlin July 5–August 23 2014
Blue and yellow wooden doorposts hanging from the ceiling, dyed-red strings, an upside-down table and wooden elephant, piles of small votive figures, old doors against the wall, balls of cow dung: At first sight Sheela Gowda’s installation Of All People, 2010, seems focused on abstraction, shape and material. But a closer look reveals a continuous involvement in Indian culture, society, politics and the deep contradictions that exist within it.
Gowda is one of India’s leading artists, and after her residency at the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program in 2013, the DAAD Gallery presents her first institutional solo show in Germany. Most of her large sculptural works are location-specific and consist of traditional Indian and found materials. Her unique use of ordinary materials in abstract installations creates a semi-mystical experience. While visiting India’s first biennial in Kochi in 2012, Gowda impressed me with her presentation of 117 old spice grinders. These stone tools were built into every decent kitchen floor in India. With the advent of cheap electric grinders, the stones were unnecessary, and they were left aimlessly on the streets.
The same thing happened to the handcrafted doors and tables presented in this installation. The disappearance of manual labor and the ushering of electronics into our daily lives is a recurring and important theme in Gowda’s work. The objects, such as the grinders or the doors, don’t become significant objects in themselves; the focus is on the geometrical, domestic forms that depict both the fear of change and the feelings of desire that come with loss.
Gowda’s works are triggered by the transformations she observes in modern Indian life. By abstracting and re-contextualizing these transformations, she is both a critic of India’s rapidly growing, globalizing economy and the disparities between the traditional rural and modern urban areas. But most of all, she is an aesthetic translator of these sociopolitical and economical issues, as her art reflects her familiarity with both Indian and Western culture. The exhibition’s only drawback is that the gallery doesn’t give the work the space it deserves. When shown in a bigger space, such as its presentation at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (Holland) in 2013, the installation breathes and comes to live.