Sheela Gowda


Of All People


In her installation “Of all People”, Indian artist Sheela Gowda explores the overlap between painting and sculpture, between the functional use of everyday materials and meaning in abstraction.


While the harmonious integration of painting and sculpture is a thing of the past (think Baroque churches or Buddhist temples), contemporary art has to live up to the challenge that there is no ultimate guarantee for art’s continued existence. The museum, where art is allowed to survive, is a trap that betrays art of its total agenda: its capacity to speak for everyone and about everything.


“ Of all People” assembles found materials, wooden beams, window frames, doors, a table and other fragments of vernacular architecture. To make these fragments somewhat coherent, the artist painted some of the objects a few strong colors (the typical Indian palette). The spatial arrangement, with the table turned upside-down, thus exposing its legs as readable forms, and beams suspended from the ceiling or balancing on the floor, further enhances the common condition “ Of all People”. The key to the piece, however, is the wooden chips populating the entire installation in varying degrees of density. As a rather amorphous mass, they may cover segments of the floor or parts of the table and the elephant. Clustered into little groups or even as single figures, they stand out with a pathos slightly reminiscent of Rodin’s “ Citizens of Calais” or Giacometti’s existentialism. Indeed, what the various elements “ Of all People” share is a state of precariousness.


This precariousness is even inscribed in the wooden chips themselves. Though they clearly have anthropomorphic traits (being ritual objects, the little wooden pieces are stand-ins for common people), they were so roughly mass-produced that their rudimentary human traits threaten to disappear. In “ Garden of Learning”, this installation might help to bridge the gap between the hermetic space of the museum and contemporary art’s claim to speak not for, but of all people (in an Indian idiom).