Nilima Sheikh Indian, b. 1945


 I think I am an artist because I am a painter and not a painter because I am an artist.

-Nilima Sheikh

b. 1945, in New Delhi, India


Nilima Sheikh is rooted in Eastern painting traditions such as miniature painting and oral traditions found in vernacular folk songs. Through her own life experiences, Sheikh continues to create bodies of work that evoke mystical imaginary landscapes that address feminine experiences.


Inspired by reading Rabindranath Tagore, the artist became interested at an early age in the connection between stories and images, and age-old connection from murals to ancient manuscripts. Beyond appropriating traditional techniques in her work, Sheikh works with figure and narration in her practice, which has also beautifully translated into theatre sets such as the 1993 Vivadi theatre production of Umrao, as well as children’s books. Sheikh has inspired several generations over her five-decade career as a Baroda based painter.


During the last two decades, she has often been working on subjects that relate to the northern region of the Indian sub-continent, with particular emphasis on Kashmir. Trained as a historian before she was trained as a painter, Sheikh delved into the history of Kashmir, and believes that Kashmir’s turmoil “is owing to our lack of understanding (of the place and people there) as Indian. The artist’s role is to bear witness - to both the past and present.” This has accumulated in a body of work that has created a visual language to bring together different aspects of the region, and its histories, in an attempt to understand some of the complexities therein. Her previous solo exhibitions at Chemould, namely, The Country Without a Post Office: Reading Aga Shahid Ali, 2003 and Each Night Put Kashmir in your Dreams, 2010, are a testament to this.


Her most recent work titled Terrain : Carrying Across, Leaving Behind, consists of a single body of work: an 8 panel, retro verso, Casein tempera painting, enclosing an octagonal space. Inscribed in these panels are stories from folklore to present times that lend to each other new and cumulative language, and contexts. Sheikh also includes song and poetry as a performative mode of public address, echoing the fourteenth-century female mystic Lal Dĕd of Kashmir (translated by Ranjit Hoskote), along with references to texts from several writers who have written about Kashmir such as Aga Shahid Ali and Salman Rushdie. This work was produced for Documenta 14, which is historically one of the world’s most important exhibitions that takes place in Kassel, Germany, every 5 years.

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