by Vatsala SethiJan 18, 2023
Surekha Sharada is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Bangalore, India. Sharada has been a creative practitioner for over two decades, exploring formats like video, installation and photography. Her work investigates how the visual medium can engage with gender, ecology and socio-political aesthetics. The artist has showcased her work at Kunstraum Kreuzberg (Germany), Ulrich Museum of Art (USA), Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Chemould Prescott Road in India, and several other locations globally. She has been involved in visual art collectives like BAR1, Khoj and was a founder curator of Rangoli Metro Art Center in Bangalore. Her work was recently on view at 1 Shanti Road in Bangalore - a solo exhibition titled Is Today Better Than Yesterday. The artist catches up with STIR to share more.
Sharada studied art at Santiniketan, a renowned college for art in West Bengal, which exposed her to new ways of thinking and approaching art. The artist tells us, "For me art is an opportunity to witness and experience the way we all live, how we think and perceive the world around us. My work is experimental, performative and semi documentary in nature. It is connected to the day-to-day spaces that are very intimate and also very often contain a strong political subtext." Her days at Santiniketan helped her appreciate "the mundaneness of the grass-root level of being," the undercurrents of which continue to show up in her work.
When Sharada began her practice, she was focused on paintings, drawings and installations. In one of her earlier works, she creates a series of costumes, mapping the sinews and fragile structure of the human form, exploring clothing as a metaphor for the body. This extended her practice into the space of gendered body politics, and she continued to make and photograph the costumes she crafted. She says, "One of the prominent dimensions I have addressed in the last decade is about bringing together deviant artistic preoccupations, in order to arrive at a cohesive, complementary nature of concepts-material-ideologue nexus.”
The showcase at 1 Shanti Road is conceived as the artist’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The installations and video works on display are the artist’s expression of her own experience in dealing with notions of loss and mortality, which were brought to our doorstep during the global lockdowns of 2020. Her installation The Lost Pair references landmark events of the past, like COVID-19 and the World War Two. It shows us the debris of the human race - what traces will be left behind after the disaster, not dissimilar to what we witnessed in concentration camps across Europe which persecuted the Jewish community. The artist shares further saying, "Telling contemporary stories of lived experiences and loss through used and ephemeral objects has been addressed in most of my works. People who are aware of Auschwitz will see the shoes and remember the Holocaust. Of course, that was a planned genocide whereas our situation in India was different. Having said that, here too there was a sense that everything in our surroundings was suffering from breathlessness - including the economy. Life became suffocating and the migrant workers faced the worst of it.”
The sculptural installation, which takes up prime focus at the exhibition, comprises a pile of shoes and slippers gathered by the artist from construction sites across the city. It serves as a reminder of the displacement and desperation we witnessed among migrants across India. The artist says, “When I started collecting the shoes, I also thought of how these worn out and damaged objects referred to the earth; through their colours of brown, black, grey and white, they brought to mind construction workers and their ongoing everyday struggles. Instigated by the trying times during the pandemic, to intervene and document 'my' time around the altered idea of the fragility of human touch. The crux of this work suggests the quest for options: a choice of making a living or being alive." The pandemic took Sharada to a reflective and introspective space, affecting her sense of being and self in an unpredictable way. The bare and minimal curation by Sharada at 1 Shanti Road is a reflection of the intimate and honest process she undergoes as an artist. The space is transformed into the living room of her own state of mind during the production of this body of work. She says, "I started observing nature for inspiration and video documented the clouds, birds and ants' activities during these surreal times. It became a ritual, every morning, to observe these relentless hardworking ants, these little creatures, trying to find meaning in surviving." The Lost Pair is shown alongside Ant Tales, a single-channel, multi-screen video installation as well as photographs, text montages and wood-cut prints.