Reshma Chhiba is a visual artist and dancer based in Johannesburg, who is interested in the intersection between contemporary visual art and classical Indian dance practices in South Africa. Chhiba is the co-founder and Creative Director of Sarvavidya Natyaalaya and also serves as Exhibitions Curator at the Wits School of Arts.
The Talking Yoni was born in 2013 in a former Women’s Jail in Johannesburg, South Africa. Trained in the classical dance of Bharatanatyam and as a visual artist with a keen interest in the secrets of Hindu mythology, her presence and art making aims to disrupt conventional notions of being a woman of Indian ancestry in post-apartheid South Africa.
Through obsessive encounters with the goddess Kali – the unbridled, provocative and ferocious goddess of Time – The Talking Yoni draws on aspects of sexuality and identity as understood through Kali’s embodiment of female defiance and aggression. Her outstretched blood-stained tongue, her vulva, or yoni, her dark volumes of wild hair and her performative defiance to the camera become the core motifs of The Talking Yoni’s language.
Through an exploration of Bharatanatyam mime, threaded penetration into the surface of saris and canvasses and a mixture of non-traditional painting media, including kumkum, turmeric, crushed coal and ash, she draws on the signs and symbols of goddess, destruction and aggression to create female identities of defiance and revolt. She blurs the lines of the mythological/real, feminine/masculine, Indian/black, performed/painted, and transcendent/physical.
Her starting point, her maternal grandmother, was a woman who overcame great difficulty in a foreign land, who spoke a foreign tongue, and battled patriarchal systems within the home and the broader South African context, yet all the while embodied the innate strength, beauty and power of the goddess.
The Talking Yoni enters the battleground of negotiating her ‘Indianness’, her femininity, her sexuality, as aspects of her identity, and aims to dismantle conventions of art making, expectations of Indian womanhood and patriarchal systems that are particular to her experience.