One of the doyennes of the Indian art world, Nilima Sheikh’s engagement with art has spanned over four decades. Her beautifully ephemeral landscapes using tempera on handmade paper, strongly influenced by Chinese, Persian, Central Asian, pre-Renaissance European and North Indian schools of tempera painting offer to the viewer exquisite narratives on loss, migration and exile. Her depiction of narration eschews the use of perspective in favour of a style of representation that seems to exist outside time. There is a visual and textual layering where geographies are infused with diverse histories. Many of her paintings explore the idea of the return to a site of past violence, especially Kashmir. Others like When Champa Grew Up centre on the experience of womanhood. To each of her work, is an extraordinary density and narrative depth and also, a commitment to feminist realities. Nilima Sheikh’s detailed etching of the expressions of her characters, the glowing, textile-like colours and her concern for traditional art forms (a legacy of her mentor KG Subramanyan’s training) all come together to illuminate scrolls, curtains, boxes and even a whole shamiana. Her works are defined by richness and subtlety conflating ancient mythology with modern history.
In her long and illustrious career, Nilima Sheikh has shown her works at Documenta; Gallery Espace, New Delhi; Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Valencia; Alexander Ochs Gallery, Berlin; the First Johannesburg Biennale, South Africa and many others. She has painted sets for theatrical productions like Umrao and Vivadi which were shown in Delhi. In addition, she has also illustrated children’s books like Saare Mausam Achche by Safdar Hashmi. She has also published several essays on art in books, journals and artists’ catalogues since 1971.
The artist lives and works in Baroda and Delhi.