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Shambhavi’s Biennale Work Focuses on Earth’s Fecundity, Might, Precariousness

In Kochi
January 29, 2019

Much like her residing city of Delhi where urbanity coexists with rusticity, Shambhavi Singh has concert for the farmer’s life. Rural routine inspires her work, as it comes clear yet again at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

The agrarian world and tools used by peasants form the mainstay of her four installations under the title ‘Maati Ma (Earth Mother)’ at the main venue of the 108-day festival. The works at Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi are named ‘Lullaby III’, ‘Water Garland’, ‘Reapers Melody’ and ‘Braille’.

The works talk about the plight of peasants and laborers in India, states the 52-year-old artist, who spent her formative years in Bihar. “A simple palm-leaf fan is magnified and concretised, alluding to its value in soothing the weary peasant traveler on hot, dusty journeys,” she notes, substantiating her point. “The monumentalisation of a crude-metal sieve, however, maintains darker connotations. The object, while representing a means of survival and livelihood, also bears the brunt of countless memories and the endless yearning for another place: home.”

Shambhavi points out while the sickle is a farming tool that can double as a weapon, the water garland in disuse can be used to “regenerate seeds disappearing from our consciousness”. “The sickle is used as a metaphor in relation to the socio-historical context. The patterned image is tightly layered, exposing the façade to come faintly to life in a breathing rhythm.”

The artist emphasises that the farmer alone can understand the “incandescent rhythm and the resonance of depth” in her work. As for ‘Water Garland’, “With ‘development’ came oversized populations, thoughtless, meaningless growth, unimaginable pressures on land and on earth,” states the artist whose work was added to the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “Exploitation became the buzz word; humanity became the arbiter of all. Rehat (‘Water Garland’) is a reality from an earlier age.”

‘Reapers Melody’ explores the life and work of the displaced farmer in an ever-shifting modern landscape. From her personal experience of a rural homeland, the artist reflects on the farmer’s role as nurturer and provider on the one hand, while negotiating the division and exploitation of land that threatens to dissolve its very existence.

Shambhavi emphasises that today’s age in time has people living in a world where food arrives “magically” in plastic packets. “Children do not know the hardship farmers go through to produce the grains,” she notes. “I, through my art, want the world to remember the farmer, his/her commitment and one’s family, towards mother earth.”

Spending her childhood in riverine Patna, Shambhavi’s engagement with the nature has taken form in painting, sculpture and installation. “My work talks about the plight of the farmer as both mythified figure and real worker, as well as the sustainability of the modern practices towards the earth,” she says. “It gains greater relevance with each day—even as it provides both a message of hope and a call for action.”

Shambhavi says she has always been drawn to nature. “I come from a rural background; so my village and its field have been my visual inspirations,” she says. “Through my work I try to depict the life and struggle of the farmers.”