Looking for more subtle ways to respond to the changing political and economic landscape of India, Sheela Gowda moved away from painting into large-scale installation work in the early 1990s. She began working with found or industrial objects and natural materials which have ritual significance like human hair, cow dung, incense and kumkum powder. Gowda combines them in abstract configurations that oscillate between drawing and sculpture. Emphasis on the process is central to her practice; as she physically transforms the materials through painstaking manual labour, raising questions about everyday working experiences of marginalised people. Her works explore contrasts between industrial manufacture and traditional handcrafts, as well as technological progress, tradition and superstitious beliefs.
In 2011, Iniva presented ‘Therein & Besides,’ the artist’s first solo show in the UK, including a new commission entitled of all people. The work comprised thousands of wooden chips, roughly carved into votive objects that formed part of a large composition of deteriorated and weathered frames, doors, windows and an upturned table. Another room featured her installation Collateral, 2007, which Gowda made by burning incense on mesh frames creating suggestive surfaces that through their ashy, fractured appearance evoke associations with the natural world or apocalyptic landscapes. Prior to this, her work was shown in the exhibition ‘Drawing Space: Contemporary Indian Drawings’ co-produced by Iniva in 2000 and accompanied by a publication of the same title.
Born in Bhadravati, Gowda studied painting in Bangalore, Baroda and Santiniketan in India, later graduating with an MA degree in painting from the Royal College of Art, London. She has participated in international group and solo shows, and her works have been included in major public collections. The installation Behold, 2009, first shown at the 53rd Venice Biennale, is part of Tate collection. And Tell Him of My Pain, 1998, exhibited in Documenta 12, Kassel in 2007, is held in the collection of Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis. In 2012, Gowda was shortlisted for the Artes Mundi 5 prize.
Gowda lives and works in Bangalore, India.