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Trace Retrace

Paintings, Nilima Sheikh

Edited by Kumkum Sangari

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Nilima Sheikh’s art practice from 1969 to 2012 forms the subject of Trace Retrace. The book is structured in three parts: visual, discursive and a combination of the two.

The largest narrative is visual – a selection from Nilima Sheikh’s paintings in diverse formats, chosen to signal the artist’s commitment to process, and to indicate the way her paintings slide into, work with and against each other, and propose a meandering seriality. The often extensive reproduction of details from these paintings introduces the unexpected, eliciting not only a flitting or looping gaze but also surprise.

The complexity of Nilima Sheikh’s art practice lends itself to other forms of engagement, as is evident in the second part of the book comprising three diverse readings: ‘Ruptures, Junctures, Returns: (un)lived histories, feminist propositions and Nilima Sheikh’ by Kumkum Sangari; ‘A Counter-Archive of Pain and Loss: Nilima Sheikh’s evolving Kashmir series’ by Ananya Jahanara Kabir; and ‘Passages in Reverie: Nilima Sheikh, modernity and the history of Kashmir’ by Kaushik Bhaumik.

The last section of the book indexes the range and diversity of Nilima Sheikh’s exhibited works, interleaved with the artist’s own voice in different tenors: autobiographical snippets, acknowledgements of her training and teachers, glimpses of her work methods and process, and meditations on her collaborative practice. These are dotted with quotations from texts that are significant to her: folk-songs, poems, stories. In this section, a cross-disciplinary intertextuality is repositioned as a coeval medium at once outside and inside Nilima Sheikh’s painted images, which not only adds a layer that extends beyond the art-historical frame but redeems the solitude of written words.

Kumkum Sangari

Kumkum Sangari worked as a UGC Professorial Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, and is the William F. Vilas Research Professor of English and the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has published extensively on British, American and Indian literatures, literary and critical theory, religious conversion, South Asian medieval oral devotional traditions, nationalist figures such as M.K. Gandhi and Annie Besant, Bombay cinema and the partition, televisual memory, contemporary feminist art practice, as well as on personal law, domestic labour, the beauty industry, sex selection, dowry, domestic violence, widow immolation and communal violence. She is the author of Politics of the Possible: Essays on Gender, History, Narratives, Colonial English; the editor of Trace Retrace: Paintings, Nilima Sheikh; and the co-editor of Women and Culture, Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History and From Myths to Markets: Essays on Gender.

“The book… is in all probabilities the first magnum opus on any woman artist in India…. This book as Kumkum Sangari says brings out the visual and the discursive. It is a very important work in Indian art historiography… All the three essays have been layered well with the nuanced understanding of Nilima Sheikh’s work…. The traces of the anti-colonial art practice craftsmanship and the conceptual space, the textual references are well brought out and weaved into the text very carefully and well.”

Aparna Roy Baliga, Art & Deal Magazine