Nilima Sheikh's paean to Kerala nurses a crowd-puller at Biennale

Nilima Sheikh's paean to Kerala nurses a crowd-puller at Biennale

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale that opened its doors to the public this December lines up an amazing array of art works from thirty one countries. More than ninety works of art awaits the viewers pouring in each day, unveiling the brave new frontiers of artistic expression.

The country’s largest art exposition steals the limelight this year by lining up the highest numbers of women in its short history. The 4th KMB can boast of a whopping sixty percent of women artists. And, not to mention the fact that the curator of this edition is a woman.

Anita Dubey, the first female curator of the KMB was busy with her responsibilities at Pepper House, one of the Biennale venues in Fort Kochi. “This is a dream! A space where an amazing array of women artists from the Guerilla Girls to the weaver woman from Kerala brush shoulders with each other,’ said Dubey briefly, before plunging into her hectic responsibilities.

In this series, four of the women artists who are present at the 4th KMB each one flaunting their own distinctive ideas and approaches talk about their art and life. Here's Nilima Sheikh talking about her work:

With the angels of the earth – Nilima Sheikh


The seventy-two year old Nilima Sheikh was the first artist chosen by Anita Dubey for the KMB. One of the most well-known visual artists of India, the epitome of female strength whose works reflected the contradictions of the Indian society upon her canvass – the descriptions for Nilima Sheikh are endless. But, Sheikh chose to portray for the KMB, the angels of Kerala.

“Each child is born into the hands of a nurse. Throughout the rest of our lives, it’s the nurses that offer us solace whenever we’re struck down by the health.” Sheikh is throwing towards us not just images that make us pause and think, but questions that force us to think too. This installation, ‘Salam Chechi,’ is dedicated not just to all the nurses who have intervened in my life so far, but to all the nurses who dedicate their lives to offer solace to the sick.

“There were some smart Malayali nurses among those who were nursing my parents when they were ailing. Their duty was in two shifts. But they would never run off grabbing their bags the moment their shift was over. They’d leave only after the next person arrives and they hand over the duty with all the necessary information exchanged. I’d found their humanity more attractive than even their extreme professionalism. As I chose this subject, I conducted a lot of research and enquiries all over the world and learnt a lot about the Malayali nurses who were working under harsh conditions leaving their families behind in different parts of the world. After collecting all that information, there was no turning back on this project.”

Sheikh’s installation carries images from the diverse moments of the nurses’ routine work. Her canvasses carry images and words that reflect the motherly instinct and the touch of healing.

Her husband is the renowned artist and pedagogue Gulam Muhammed Sheikh who was also her teacher. They have two children, one daughter who is a historian and a son who works as a public health professional. The Sheikhs live and work in Baroda.

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