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11 June to 12 July 2008 

Art Extra

curated by David Brodie

Kali is usually depicted as a dark skinned, almost black, goddess who wears a girdle of arms around her waist and a necklace of human skulls. She holds in her four hands a severed demonic head, a lotus flower, a sword and with the fourth making the gesture of ‘abhayam’ (protection). Her long black hair is dishevelled, her tongue outstretched and dripping with blood. She stands upon the chest of Shiva, her consort.


Kali is said to have sprang forth from the brow of Durga (another HIndu Goddess) on the battlefield, where they joined forces to defeat the demon Rakta-Bija. In my work, I explore the aspect of feminine potential that is defiant and revolting (to revolt). I am also interested in the links between mythological archetypes and contemporary gender dynamics, particularly within the Hindu community, a largely patriarchal society.

I use Kali iconography, often abstracted, to create large canvasses that are as much about the tactility and experience of surface, as they are about the tongues, swords, flowers, hair and skin of the goddess. The pigments used in the paintings are all earth based., relating to ideas of earth as mother, as feminine, as ancient. The pigments I use are kumkum (vermilion), turmeric, incense ash and coal. Each substance relates to the body of Kali: the red pigment kumkum speaks of blood, which is so strongly associated with Kali; the coal speaks both of her dark powerful body and her wild matted locks; the turmeric is often used in ritual worship of the goddess (during some rituals a likeness of Her face is moulded out of this substance); while the ash speaks of the destructive aspect of Kali, for it is in the moment of destruction that Kali appears as the ash covered widow called Dhumavati. In each painting an image/ symbol has been stitched onto the surface. The process of stitching, much like the materiality of the pigment on surface, is extremely important in the production of these works. It is an act of labour - a cathartic process - that becomes somewhat meditative and almost dance-like, as I shift around the canvas making repetitive gestures and movements.

The aspect of dance emerges more directly in my photographic and video works. The photographic series of a dancer performing traditional dance movements and gestures speaks directly of Kali: In this constructed narrative the female character develops from submissive and weak, to a challenging and defiant Kali-like figure.

Reshma Chhiba 2008

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