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In times when following careers of artists is becoming increasingly difficult with their work being shown across the globe and retrospectives few and far between it is a pleasure to welcome Nilima Sheikh's latest show at Gallery Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai, showcasing some of her major work from c.2004 onwards. The centerpiece of the show, dedicated to Sheikh's continuing exploration of the historical fates of Kashmir through the past decade, will be a set of nine scrolls (casein, tempera on canvas sized 10 by 6 feet each) that make up what the artist had earlier collectively termed, after Emperor Jahangir's famous exclamation about Kashmir being Paradise on earth, her Firdaus series of works. In addition there will be a small selection from Sheikh's Kashmir work on paper recently exhibited at the Drawing Trails show at Gallery Espace in Delhi in 2009 as well as a few small paintings, cameo snapshots of Sheikh's intense engagement with life-worlds in the valley.

 

The works on show have the reverie-informed palimpsest presentation of material that we have come to associate with Sheikh's work with all of Kashmir's contradictory and multicultural histories erupting through the artist's reverie about the land as Paradise. The magical and the marvelous, the mythic and the fabulous and ritual and fantasy pass through the photographic, the performative, the textual, the uttered and the art historical as well as through the artisanal habitual and the ecological. Multiple cultural sensibilities from all over the world from various strata of history make up the Kashmir of today. Textual references from Kalhan rub shoulder with the poetry of Lal Dedh, folktales jostle with the poetry of Aga Shahid Ali or the prose of Rushdie and the work of historian Chitralekha Zutshi while visual references range from pre-Renaissance Italian art to Bihzad to the magnificent demonography of the Siyah Qalam and Thangka art amongst others.

 

As we watch Sheikh's work it is not a simple lament for the destruction of Paradise by political violence that we see. Instead what we get from the artist is an unraveling in various directions of the multiple layers of forces of history at play in Kashmir today, the outcome of which is yet to be seen.