October 28, 2015
Last week, in the sweltering heat and sweat of Mumbai, we made our way to Sasson Docks in Colaba – not once, not twice, but thrice! And yes, it was worth it. In those precious moments of losing oneself to art, and beauty, and poetry, and installations, which came together to create this intimate exhibition of work by Shilo Shiv Suleman, public yet personal, one felt like he/she was walking through the diary of someone in love, or perhaps someone heartbroken.
Shilo is a visual artist, a designer by training, but like we last said, a spiritual gypsy always in search of herself, and always curious about the person behind every person she meets. We had traced her journey at the start of this year, so we were curious about what she’d been up to over the year and what had brought her to Mumbai this time.
Over lunch at Leopolds, after she finally decided to step away from the wall she’d been painting as a part of The Fearless Collective, we spoke to her about Beloved, about her fascination for Biofeed installations and what she seeks. Shilo works at the intersection of dreams, art, magic, romance, street art, technology and installation design. An odd junction, which can’t be purely called design or art, but interactive nonetheless.
Beloved is Shilo’s first solo exhibit. For someone who has always questioned how art in a gallery space would interact with a wide audience, her work is rather melancholic, filled with literature, self-explorations and a gentle, yet open representation of the feminine form, and the overwhelming emotion of love.
Beloved is an “exploration of Nature, Intimacy and Technology”. The display consists of works in several mediums, including gold-leaf encrusted wood-cut murals and watercolour paintings.
We asked Shilo what brings out that vulnerability and that strength in her pieces? “Well, it happened during this period when I was quite heartbroken, but then, I practically fall in love every 20 minutes,” she laughed.
“The piece is about what being in love each time made me feel – the stars shine brighter, the moon looks bigger and the breeze a little sweeter. So with each heartbreak, I just realised that it wasn’t really the idea of being in love with a person but the fact that being in love, made me feel one with nature, that I cherished a lot and longed for.”
Verses, translations from Akka Mahadevi’s (a 12th century early female poet of Kannada language) compositions, are strewn around on the walls, painted above, below and around the paintings in the artist’s handwriting, like an ode to the beauty of love, one’s devotion to the beloved.
As we walked to the upper floor of Art Musings, a darker, more introverted, more dreamy landscape awaited us. Using Biofeed technology, basically tracing the workings of the human body the same way as wearable technology does, Shilo has moulded an experience which is triggered by a person’s breath.
In a grove of trees and flowers, lotuses hang from the golden stems and the large screen-cut, patterned petals on top shine bright once you inhale and exhale into the flowers. The flowers are fitted with sensors which sync to the rhythm of your breath; the lights of the petals then shine bright and dim down in sync with one’s breath.
On top of the first painting at the gallery below, there are these words, calligraphed on top reading: I love Ruh. Mesmerizing as the experience is, “What is ‘I love Ruh’?” I asked Shilo. “I am half Hindu and half Muslim, and I have had a natural fascination towards writings of the Qur’an,” she explained, telling us that the Qur’an says that Allah uses his breath and the word Ruh to breathe life into the mould of a man. The sound of his breath was”Ruuu…..uh!” She explained to us, making the sound of a rushing whistle.
Breath is that one thing that we exchange with trees. We exhale carbon-dioxide, plants inhale it and produce oxygen, which we live on, making a continuous loop that joins us to nature. It connects God to Man and Man to Nature. It is what we exchange when we kiss our beloved. And that is Ruh.
Getting lost in Brindavan and for the first time in a long time, Breathing again – something we forget in our stretched, distorted lives – was therapeutic. Soon after, Shilo got back to her wall, waving, edging me on to climb the scaffolding and join her on the top deck, which I refused like a complete wuss of course.
The Fearless Collective
At the site of her painting for The Fearless Collective, Shilo is seen instructing other artists, locals, students and painters on what portions to paint, what to paste and what to leave out, such that she finishes her huge wall in time. The Fearless Collective founded by Shilo, is a collective of over 400 visual artists, photographers and activists that harness the power of art to create social change.
With the Fearless Collective, Shilo has travelled across the country, painting walls to advocate against rising sexual violation of women in the country. Fearless was triggered by the 2012 Delhi Gang-rape protests near India Gate. ‘Nirbhaya’ – as the victim was referred to – means ‘fearless’, and thus the name of her series. It began as a poster collective of visual artists, filmmakers, street artists, photographers and activists, from which it has flourished to a blend between street art and the feminist movement, emphasising on a common goal: the need to reclaim one’s right to public space.
At Sasson Docks, the figure of an anonymous Koli woman, representative of the local Koli fishing community that populates majority of the area, adorns the wall. We bid Sasson Docks goodbye…for the time being, hoping to return to this place soon, with more such chance discoveries.
Art Musings is hosting Shilo Shiv Suleman’s work from 17 October to 20 November. Beloved and Brindavan are a must visit. While you are there walk a few steps down the lane towards Sasson Docks and get a glimpse of the painting for The Fearless Collective too.
Image credits: Art Musings and Anusha Narayanan