Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, review: Confidence is shown in the artist’s simple story telling

I travel to Birmingham on one of the hottest days of the year to see the work of Sheela Gowda. I confess to being a long term follower of Gowda.  Of all the installations at Tate Modern, Gowda’s Behold 2009, containing 4,000 metres or four kilometers of rope made of human hair, 20 car bumpers is one of the most memorable installations currently on show.  To make the length of rope necessitated 1,000 seamless knots which the artist herself made. Gowda had said in an earlier interview,  “Handling a material makes me understand its limitations and its potential … I therefore do not outsource the physical aspect of art-making. Behold recently acquired for the Tate collection was shown initially in the Venice Biennale. The mixture of hair and found objects – the steel car bumpers carefully hung horizontally wound together with the ropes of hair allowed to loop and spill onto the floor.  The talismanic quality of the hair, given initially as an offering to assure the driver’s safe passage, here subjugated by the ever present modernity of a burgeoning economy. There is a strong linearity contrasting with the looping forms sculpture that recalls “drawing in space”.

Gowda, who was born in 1957, trained to be a painter in her native India before being awarded a scholarship to study in London at the Royal College of Art.  Her tutor painter Peter de Francia “liked India”, she says and she was excited as previously she had never thought she would get to travel to Europe. She studied first in London and then went to Paris where she studied for three months and met her now husband Christoph Storz a Swiss conceptual artist. Storz introduced her to European Conceptual language amongst others the work of Joseph Beuys.  At the time Storz was considering making a work encasing the iconic Swiss novel Heidi in cow dung.  Gowda started thinking about cow dung the material in a different way as a political and also gender based work- something she…

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