Dimple Shah: Multidisciplinary Artist and Performance Art Exponent



Dimple Shah is a multidisciplinary artist; her work builds strong political and social knowledge in a physical and poetic visual language. Her work represents the intrinsic study of philosophy, psychology, shamanism and eco-feminism with key socio-political concerns related to war-related humanitarian issues like migration, crimes against women, etc.


Catharsis, purification, healing, distillation, and extraction of the pure from the self are essential elements in her works with various approaches that are ephemeral, spontaneous, and interactive to help in the healing process. Seen in this light, her work with the distillation process can in a metaphorical sense be applied to the thematic concerns addressed in her art.







1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?


DS: My fascination with conventional theatre sparked my curiosity in art and visual performance art. During my undergraduate years in 1995, I was part of some play productions and worked with B. Jayshree and for an independent theatre group called Ranga Shankara Troop, where I met Arundhati Nag. This experience of seven years allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of backstage and onstage activities and learn about the history of theatre in India and around the globe. I participated in plays such as 'Tippu Sultan’, ‘Surya Shikari’, and ‘Jasma Uddan’, to name a few, and developed a strong desire to learn more about traditional theatre. At that time, I was considering a career in theatre.


Following my graduation in commerce from NMKRV College for Women's in Bangalore, I realized that I had an inclination towards the arts and various art forms. I followed a completely different path in the visual arts, enrolling in a five-year course and graduated with a Diploma in Painting from the Ken School of Art in 1998. I then pursued my deep interest in graphics (printmaking), working for a year in the Graphic Studio at Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi to nurture my printmaking skills and worked hard to develop a good body of work so that I could to gain admission and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Printmaking in Baroda in 2001.


My desire to learn more led me to apply for numerous scholarships. Fortunately, I received the Commonwealth Arts and Craft Award 2005 and spent nine months at Glasgow Print Studio. During the early years of my graduation I got inspired by German existentialist artists like Anslem Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, Rebecca Horn, Jenny Holzer, and the early dada artists like Man Ray who followed surrealist approaches. I could instantly connect to the philosophical and existential quest in my mind, which became a foundation for my journey. During my masters, I explored not just printmaking but extended my explorations in visual performance art. Initially, I experimented with photographic performance. In 2001 I presented my first official performance at the faculty auditorium in front of a large audience that was also part of the final year art display – an open day for the public. From then onward I’ve never looked back, and now after 20 plus years, I continue on my journey with 70 plus performances performed till now in dozens of cities across three continents.


It took a lot of effort to convince people about performance art which was not that popular in the Indian contemporary space. To perform in public spaces involved a lot of effort, from investing money to taking permissions and organizing everything and finally performing. There is lack of understanding and people always believed and still do that performance art is free. This is not true. A tremendous amount of time, energy, labour and investment goes into it like any other art form.

I have constantly worked to change this thinking and have been able to bring about some change over the years (20 years of effort and research and experience is not just like that). I’ve been internationally recognized for my work and have made my mark to get commissioned for my performance works.


2. What art projects are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?


DS: There are a couple of projects I am documenting on a Research Fellowship on Changing Trends in Printmaking as a printmaker. In the last decade there has been a paradigm shift in the printmaking art scene in India with individual printmakers increasingly shifting their dependence from the public studio to establishing their own private studio, not only in major cities but also in smaller ones like Nainital and Nagpur. Another ongoing research project is related to alchemy, shamanism and ecology, which I’ve been working on for the last fifteen years and which enhances my art practice. Presently, I’m preparing for a performance project titled 'Research-Creation in Urgent Times’ for Spar2c, who have invited artists whose works are predominantly research-based.


Apart from these, I am working on creating prints and paintings – I am planning a solo show after many years. There are also curatorial projects lined up: the ‘Lock Unlock’ and ‘Transitstation’ performance art projects are both research-based laboratories where we as a team explore online performance possibilities.


3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?


DS: I describe my artistic practice as multidisciplinary as my art practice has evolved in various mediums such as performance, printmaking, and other media. While I draw a line for my expression, I work according to the need of my concept. In recent years, my focus has been on merging these artistic mediums in an interdisciplinary language. In particular, performance and live art as a means of expression contain for me the elements of time and space of my subconscious impulses with the same time frame; it has the dual purpose of engaging the body as a means of communication and the audience to respond directly and immediately. All my performance works deal with social issues through visual expression, which, in addition to the video installations, serves as a comprehensive study. The video projection and mundane objects used for the performance reinforce the power of my argument. In the last two decades, I have developed my own language of expression by merging and working independently in these mediums, especially in live performance art and by involving myself in community-based public projects and to build a community of performance artists. I have done more than seventy plus live art performances in different countries and cities around the globe on various socio-political and ecological concerns, historical relevance of cities and women's issues.


Encounter Self, Still Performance, Faculty of Fine Arts, 2000


Encounter Self, Still Performance, Faculty of Fine Arts, 2000


Saffron Border, Kanoria Art Centre, 2003


Black Fever - Cry from Dark, Afriperforma International Residency 2013

Photo by Athur Godpower


Katharsis in Forbidden Zone, solo show, 2010


Piece of Earth in my Pocket, Vivekananda Metro, 2014


Reverbrating Earth, The Longest Day Performance Festival 2015, Zurich

Photo by Urs Schmid


Small Peace of Earth in my Pocket, State University of Performing and Visual Arts, 2017


Connecting to the Roots, 2019

Photograph by Cole Ndule


The Alchemist lab, Art Houz Wakefield, United Kingdom, 2019

Curated by Sunil Shah


Temple of Love, Negotiating Sacredness - Dhaka Live Art Biennale 2019, Dhaka Fine Art College

Photo by Soumyak Saha DhruboI


Prayer of Shaman, Out of Site Chicago, 2020

Photograph by Shalini Murthy


Silence of the Fury, Live Action 16, 2021

Photograph by Anila Govindappa


A Small Piece of Earth in my Pocket, What You Find in Warrior's Robe, 2017

Photo by Soumi


Negotiating Purity, PAE Echoes of Shamanism Zone2 Source, Amsterdam, 2018

Photo by Konstantin Guz


Mapping Sacred Spaces, Live action 11, Gothenburg, Sweden

Photo by Christian Berven


Printmaking is the other apt medium to develop the complexity that is underlying in the subject that I address in my work. The construction of the work, by placing layers next to each other or superimposing layers, can be mapped into the complex structure of the socio-human problems that my work addresses.


4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?


DS: In recent years, my artistic work has focused on identifying the "me", both at the macro and micro levels. As an individual who is part of a social structure, my work expresses the self that needs to navigate the effects of the socio-political turmoil and related human problems juxtaposed with the personal plane to cope with the emotional responses of alienation, insecurity and fear as a by-product of our "postmodern" era. The duality of exploration is reflected both in the concepts underlying my impressions and in the work on the stage.


Over two decades, my artistic practice has gradually evolved with core humanitarian issues in relation to equality and justice to emotional responses arising from socio-political, religious, and community issues, such as ethnic riots, conflicts, women's safety, oppression and environmental concerns. At times, I explore growing and developing cities like Bangalore which have a rich historical background and relevance. My journey as an artist grew out of my philosophical and existential questioning and perspective of the self and has now became more complex as I exposed myself to the reality of the prevailing social structure, such as the experience of the 2002 Godhra communal riots in Gujarat where men, women, and children brutally killed, women tortured and bodies burned. It drastically affected my thought process and as an emotional reaction, I performed ‘Saffron Border’ in 2003 at the Kanoria Art Centre and the Bangalore Kala Mela Festival. From here there was a transition to go inward and to introspect on my roots when I went to the Glasgow print studio residency for nine months. During my experience in Glasgow I felt a hollowness, a void, and I turned toward my roots where I explored both western and Indian alchemy to look for answers for healing and catharsis and visual representation of imagery from early texts on alchemy. The residency was fruitful to evolve my perspective and bring in the elements of cure (healing) and use of natural healing materials, such as milk, salt, turmeric, ash, etc., in my later works which are ongoing.. The residency led to a solo show, ‘Katharsis in Forbidden Zones’, which was about the aspect of nine metals affecting social and other related faculties of philosophy and psychology and in what way one can achieve 'catharsis' and purging and also get healed. The show was a set of installations and paintings and a video of the performance. I worked with various alchemical elements and essentials as a base to analyse different stages of purification.


The purpose of art is a double-edged, artistic expression of observing and looking at society both from internal and external perspectives with a bird's eye view and an open mind, inclusive of humanistic values and critical socio-political and ecological issues. To bring in concerns of extinction of human beings and other living beings and ecological concerns during the pandemic I worked with shamanism for my performance, ‘Prayer of Shaman’, for Out of Site Chicago, ‘Prayer for Co-existence for Laboratory for Art Soul’ in Germany, and ‘Survival and Coexistence for Bio Networks’ organized by the Dhaka Live Art Biennale.


5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?


DS: In recent years, my artistic work has focused on identifying the "me", both at the macro and micro levels. As an individual who is part of a social structure, my work expresses the self that needs to navigate the effects of the socio-political turmoil and related human problems juxtaposed with the personal plane to cope with the emotional responses of alienation, insecurity and fear as a by-product of our "postmodern" era. The duality of exploration is reflected both in the concepts underlying my impressions and in the work on the stage.


Over two decades, my artistic practice has gradually evolved with core humanitarian issues in relation to equality and justice and emotional responses arising from socio-political, religious, and community issues, such as ethnic riots, conflicts, women's safety, oppression and environmental concerns. At times, I explore growing and developing cities like Bangalore which have a rich historical background and relevance. My journey as an artist grew out of my philosophical and existential questions and perspective of the self and has now became more complex as I exposed myself to the reality of the prevailing social structure, such as the experience of the 2002 Godhra communal riots in Gujarat where men, women, and children brutally killed, women tortured and bodies burned. It drastically affected my thought process and as an emotional reaction, I performed ‘Saffron Border’ in 2003 at the Kanoria Art Centre and the Bangalore Kala Mela Festival. From here there was a transition to go inward and to introspect on my roots when I went to the Glasgow print studio residency for nine months. During my experience in Glasgow I felt a hollowness, a void, and I turned toward my roots where I explored both western and Indian alchemy to look for answers for healing and catharsis and visual representation of imagery from early texts on alchemy. The residency was fruitful to evolve my perspective and bring in the elements of cure (healing) and use of natural healing materials, such as milk, salt, turmeric, ash, etc., in my later works which are ongoing.. The residency led to a solo show, ‘Katharsis in Forbidden Zones’, which was about the aspect of nine metals affecting social and other related faculties of philosophy and psychology and in what way one can achieve 'catharsis' and purging and also get healed. The show was a set of installations and paintings and a video of the performance. I worked with various alchemical elements and essentials as a base to analyse different stages of purification.


The purpose of art is a double-edged, artistic expression of observing and looking at society both from internal and external perspectives with a bird's eye view and an open mind, inclusive of humanistic values and critical socio-political and ecological issues. To bring in concerns of extinction of human beings and other living beings and ecological concerns during the pandemic I worked with shamanism for my performance, ‘Prayer of Shaman’, for out-of-site Chicago and also ‘Prayer for Co-existence for Laboratory for Art Soul’ in Germany, and ‘Survival and Coexistence for Bio Networks’ organized by the Dhaka Live Art Biennale.


The process of creation starts in my mind months before I sit in front of canvas. I make rough sketches which change often. Once I’ve decided on a composition, it starts working in my mind . . . the size, colours, materials, and so on. The picture I create in my mind may not appear the same on canvas, so it undergoes changes at different levels. My works with rag impressions on canvas took about four years of hard work. I discarded more than a dozen canvases during my experiment. I need a very large space as I cannot move the un-stretched canvas for about a month on which I create the impression with gunny rag. Once I separate gunny from the canvas, I again allow the impression to dry completely. I work with paint and thin brush to get the desired shades and paint on it the required object. I’ve moved on from just natural gunny colour to coloured gunny rag. I’ve also introduced print to support my idea and acrylic along with oil paint. One thing has led to another and finally I've started pasting a few gunny threads also on canvas.


6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?


DS: There has been considerable change in the online platform during the pandemic; it opened up various avenues while physical galleries closed down. During the pandemic artists looked for possibilities to survive. Artists working with paintings chose the many online platforms made available to showcase their works. While the probability to sell works was slim in 2020, nevertheless, in 2021 many artists started exploring the NFT platform. I too got a few introductions but never explored the possibilities. As a performance artist, it did open up several doors, one has to have an open mind to experiment with online opportunities and work with video performances. Several platforms came up, to name a couple, 'The Lock Unlock Performance Art Project' and 'Transitstation', which I am part of as a core member. We invited several international artists to perform on these platforms and, we have launched 20 successful episodes ‘Of Lock Unlock’ till now. I have also been honoured to participate and get commissioned for projects with international organizations to present my work (live-streamed and recorded video performance). Around the globe, live performance artists are looking out for various modules to work out possibilities. The post-pandemic artist network has broadened. It has given vast scope to work out different experiments in various laboratories. We also got more time to reflect on our thought process for future shows and examine possibilities in terms of art business like NFT. I would optimistically assume that post-pandemic both online and physical exhibitions will explode with shows. I hope the market will be good and will broaden on both platforms and open doors for marketing with rise in demand depending on the market conditions and the economy as a whole.


7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice. Does it get reflected

in your art?


DS: I am interested in gardening, cooking; I feel life and art go hand in hand. I believe and stress on Art-Life as one mantra. I have used both of my interests as part of my art project growing organic millets, wheatgrass, green gram for my art projects, to mention a few. I have performed several versions of this performance piece in different events. I grew millet for the first time that I performed in 2014 for Live Art Lab at Bangalore Santé (Vivekananda Metro station). It was a durational work since I prepared sowing seeds three weeks prior to the actual performance and also designed my own costume to carry those plants. Later, I also planted the seeds in the gardens of Bangalore Santé and the saplings were given away to the audience.


I performed this again in 2017 at Goethe Institute, where I sowed wheatgrass seeds for four weeks and later installed and distributed the saplings to audience members. In 2017 I collaborated with students of the State University of Performing and Visual Arts, Rothak, and did a performance, along with 10-12 students, titled A Small Piece of Earth in My Pocket – Warriors of Nature. An Iranian filmmaker, Maryna Grytsai, made a film on this project titled A Piece of Earth in My Pocket.


Cooking also became part of one of the performance works for ‘The Longest Day Performance Festival’ in Zurich, Switzerland – I engaged in a day-long labour for this act by making fafda, representing working women in major cities who make poppadum and chapatti for their everyday living. This performance was a metaphor for the everyday work of women which is not considered as work. In this work I brought an imaginary fantasy of Switzerland by implanting an impression of the landscape through the vegetable colour print on fafda and also the holy cow which connects both India and Switzerland.



(All images and videos are courtesy of the artist, Dimple Shah, unless mentioned otherwise)


 

The artamour questionnaire is a regular series of interviews with visual artists across disciplines, who share their views about art, their practice and their worldview on a common questionnaire template. Like, comment, share and subscribe to stay updated.

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