This book explores the eclectic practice of artist Sheela Gowda and her ongoing engagement with the paradoxes and predicaments of urban and rural life in modern India. With an emphasis on her sprawling installations, we see her use of distinctive materials from her native India, whose textures, colors and scents lend her work narrative form as well as metaphorical force. Through the imaginative employment of cow dung, kumkum powder, coconut fibers, hair, threads, stones, tar barrels and tarpaulins-which carry magical, cult and ritual, personal and functional connotations-Gowda blends traditions of craftsmanship and practical application with poetic intensity.
Gowda began her career as an oil painter, testing out themes and approaches that would shape her later practice: the everyday life of middle-class India, the conflicts women confront at work and at home, appropriating media images that touch on political and social tensions. In the early 1990s she first adopted cow dung as a medium (initially in paintings, later in three-dimensional pieces and installations), exploring its relevance to the Hindu cult of the cow and omnipresence in today’s India, from practical uses (in construction, flooring, insulation), to its purifying, healing properties and sacred significance.