The Two Talking Yonis

8 to 31 August 2013 

Women's Jail at Constitution Hill, Kalashnikovv Gallery and Room Galleries and Projects

Reshma Chhiba in conversation with Nontobeko Ntombela

For many years, the work of Reshma Chhiba has focused on the notion of feminine energy and the creation of alternative identities for women within current patriarchal systems. This has most often been inspired by the position of the Hindu goddess Kali, who represents a fierce and ferocious form of the female within Chhiba’s production. This goddess has been the most immediate reference to the idea of a mythological powerful female that resonates with the conceptual framing of this show.  

While the interest in mythology and use of Kali as a point of departure has not changed in Chhiba’s work, this show offers a progression from the artist’s earlier thinking about these positions of the female. The Two Talking Yonis exhibition presented a set of questions that were about the idea of re-looking, re-examining and re-investigating this position of the female. This was achieved through installation of a series of works that took place in three different venues. Those being: Constitution Hill (Women’s Jail), Room Gallery and Projects, and Kalashnikovv Gallery.

All of these shows explored different symbolic elements of goddess energy such as the tongue and vagina or yoni, depictions and explorations of Kali’s portrait through the artist’s eyes, and the mythology of Kali in relation to issues of identity and mythology, by referencing classical Indian dance. Working with the curator Nontobeko Ntombela, this show worked as platform for discussing issues related to Chhiba’s obsession with Kali as a form of female defiance. Ntombela’s ongoing interest in Chhiba’s work is premised on the complex questions about the forms of representation of ‘this female energy’. As the title of the exhibition The Two Talking Yonis suggests, over a period of a year Chhiba and Ntombela were been engaged in discussions about the work that was produced over this period. In turn this shaped how this project evolved during the year. 

These discussions were also centred around the yoni as a creative space, not just as a space of birth, rather as a space of power and defiance. These spaces, as Chhiba and Ntombela considered them, were spaces of complexity that talk to the yoni as a metaphor and an abstract idea. In this moment the yoni became a space of criticality, protest, mockery, battle and femininity. 

 

Performance became a constant thread in Chhiba’s visual art aesthetic; that which can be traced through the process of sewing into the sari, dance to interpret the different manifestations of Kali, and the making of the yoni. These processes thus set up a conversation between tradition and contemporary, mythology and reality, feminine and masculine, black and Indian, artist and curator, as some of the main concerns that this show addressed. The show also dealt with critiquing exhibition practices in relation to role of the curator and the artist. It challenged the task of curating a solo show, working with a singular artistic concept, yet allowing for a space of negotiation, disagreements and exchange of ideas.

Chhiba & Ntombela 2013