The temple she carried – The Hindu

Shilo Shiv Suleman talks about his wearable art recently shown at Sotheby’s, which was also a female body recovery exercise

Shilo Shiv Suleman is the Founder and Director of the Fearless Collective, where she helps more than 400 artists protest gender-based violence through their work. But last week the outspoken contemporary Indian artist, 32, made headlines for her installation, Temple, shown at the charity auction, Boundless Space, by Sotheby’s and Burning Man Project. Presented at an estimate of $ 30,000 to $ 50,000 and ultimately sold for $ 56,700, Temple is a portable installation and a “ritual performance”. Suleman says he not only recovers his connection to his family history, but also views the female body as a site of devotion.

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With an Instagram account of around 54,000 subscribers, the artist has had success with various means of expression. At 16, she illustrated stories from her life in thick hand-bound journals. “I discovered that I could tell other stories as well, which led me to illustrate children’s books, with 10 books published when I was 18 and a TED talk with a million views at 21. years, ”she said. Temple, made of brass with semi-precious stones, has its origins in a small temple in Kannur, Kerala. Suleman recounts how his father’s Nambiar family had been the guardian of this temple and had “taken care of Sree Oorpazhachi Kavu, the temple of the mother goddess and its ancient grove of herbs.” She says she met her ex-father in this temple in December 2019, before creating this work during the second wave of the pandemic.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Shilo Shiv Suleman carrying the 'Temple'

You presented this work of art during the “season of the goddess”.

Indeed, it is the season of the goddess. While in Indian culture the goddess has been worshiped outside of ourselves, we, as Indian women, have seldom embodied the same kind of reverence and sacredness that is bestowed on temples or idols within. temples. So for me Temple was truly a recuperation of the goddess inside of us and inside of every woman. This piece is inspired by the dancers of Kerala who channel the mother goddess. But only men are allowed to play and channel these energies. In many Indian traditions there is a belief that women are not powerful enough to contain the divine feminine within themselves. So this piece really challenges some of those notions, especially during Navratri, as we count down every night and do these hawans for the goddess to remind us that the goddess exists in all of us.

Temple has a connection to your family on both sides, doesn’t it?

It was made in Jaipur in my studio in Hawa Mahal. I worked with artisans from the community of Lohar. My grandfather Haji Suleman is from the community of Lohar and was a metallurgist, so it’s a very interesting fusion of both sides of my family. Conceptualization of the coin began during Wave 2 in India, which was, as we all know, pretty gruesome. And in that deep, dark time, I found myself making this piece almost like a soft light and a memory of power. I moved to Rajasthan, where for three months I worked on making the 40 kilogram (brass) piece around my body. I wanted it to exist as something that could be worn on my body but that could also be an altar, and a temple in its own way.


Tell us about this time in Kannur, a homecoming, where you “found” your father and yourself.

At a time of great uncertainty and fear in our lives, when my father disappeared in China without warning, my mother and I began to paint. Nilofer Suleman found herself responsible for two children and began teaching art. When I was 14, I was carrying her basket of pencils and helping her. During the day she worked twice to support us, at night we painted. When I was 16, I started to tell my own story… I took the maiden name of my Muslim mother (Suleman) and the rest is our history of art. But although this story is told often, it is only part of my story and part of my lineage. Twelve years after he left, after many years of self-employment, I decided to look for my ex-father in our ancestral village in Kerala, where he had reluctantly returned from China for lack of choice. This afternoon in December 2019, I found it, but I also found myself. As soon as we stepped through the threshold into the ancient temple embrace, I felt like I found my way back to my bones and my lineage.

At a time when the feminine has been ignored for so long… these altars become reminders of our own sacredness.

Do you think the winning bidder will honor the traditions of devotion …

I really hope that the person who brings my temple home will honor it like a living object, because I know I did. The piece was blessed in a temple in Rajasthan and then blessed again in New York, when 25 South Asian women [were part of a] beautiful temple procession inside the auction house, led by my friend and musician, Monica Dogra. They walked into Sotheby’s all dripping red with bowls of incense and ritual. I believe whoever bought this piece will continue to treat it like this.

Shilo Shiv Suleman

Can we expect other portable shrines?

We are celebrating nine different manifestations of the feminine. Whether in his state of bliss, his state of anger, his state of rage, his state of power. Her mother archetype. And yet, the feminine continues to be so little respected around the world. But I believe there is a radical surge right now, a radical recuperation of this form of this feminine force inside our bodies. So there will be many, many beautiful temples and varying friends that I will create over the next few years. And I believe our future will be female.

How to encourage greater representation of Indian art on international platforms?

For me it was interesting that a temple was not treated like a dead object inside an auction house… I think when it comes to representing Indian art on international platforms , it is also a recovery of what Indian art can be. And it doesn’t have to be something placed in a frame or in a box. It can be something that is so close to us. It is something that is used, something that is worshiped.

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