b. 1957, Bhadravati, Karnataka, India
Sheela Gowda was born in Bhadravati, India, in 1957. She studied painting at Ken School of Art, Bangalore, India (1979), pursued a postgraduate diploma at Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India (1982), and earned an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art, London (1986). Though trained as a painter, Gowda expanded her practice to sculpture and installation, and has since also incorporated photography. Drawn to common local materials such as cow dung, incense, and kum kum powder (a natural pigment most often available in brilliant red), she makes process-oriented works in the idiom of Post-Minimalist abstraction that are activated by their materials’ ritualistic associations.
And Tell Him of My Pain (1998/2001/2007) is a cascading installation of draped red cord. Gowda made this material by pulling over 250 meters of thread through sewing needles, then binding it with pigment and glue. Terminating in a clutch of glinting needles, the cord’s color and snaking arrangement both attract and repel, as softness gives way to severity. For Darkroom (2006), Gowda collected used tar drums from road construction teams to build a shanty fort. Despite the rusted patina of the repurposed metal, the small but well-designed structure, complete with columns, evokes a classical grandeur. Once inside the cramped interior, the viewer is treated to a representation of a starry sky in the form of a ceiling pricked with holes. Thus the work fuses confinement and limitlessness. In the case of the latter, the artist substitutes an illusion of the cosmos, which is not to discount the spurious value of the fake, but to emphasize the power of imagination. From domestic labor to public works, Gowda reflects on internal contradictions: home can be both secure and oppressive, tradition can be inspirational and restraining, industriousness can be innovative and destructive.
Gowda has had solo exhibitions at Venkatappa Art Gallery, Bangalore (1987 and 1993); Gallery 7, Mumbai (1989); Gallery Chemould, Mumbai (1993); GALLERYSKE, Bangalore (2004, 2008, and 2011); Bose Pacia Gallery, New York (2006); Museum Gouda, Netherlands (2008); Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo (2010); Iniva, London (2011); and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands (2013). Notable group exhibitions include How Latitudes Become Form, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2003); Documenta 12 (2007), Indian Highway, Serpentine Gallery, London (2008); Making Worlds, Venice Biennale (2009); Provisions, Sharjah Biennial (2009); Paris-Delhi-Bombay, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2011); and Garden of Learning, Busan Biennial (2012). She is a finalist for the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize. Gowda lives and works in Bangalore.