New Delhi

Shambhavi, Purabiya.Easterly, 2019, iron, dimensions variable.

Shambhavi, Purabiya.Easterly, 2019, iron, dimensions variable.


You could almost feel a gentle breeze rippling through Shambhavi’s aptly titled installation Purabiya.Easterly (Easterly.Easterly) (all works 2019). It appeared to tousle the work’s dozen elegantly perched metallic objects, bending and twisting them as it went along. These forms, scattered through the upper floor of the gallery, could masquerade as part of the vegetal world just as blithely as they could claim to belong to the animal kingdom. Were they perhaps the large leaves of some luxuriant plant or possibly the wings of a moth? The flapping ears of an elephant or the petals of some exotic flower? Certainly their delicacy belied the material they were fashioned from: heavy iron mimicking the near weightlessness of leaves. Only their rust-orange hues were a dead giveaway. The artist actively abets the corrosion of the material by exposing her sculptures to the elements. Her early works on canvas were swathed in inky blacks and darkness, but rust is Shambhavi’s new black.

Acutely attuned to the rhythms of nature and the passing of seasons, Shambhavi steeps her works in memories of a childhood spent at her grandparents’ homes in rural Bihar, in East India. She is acutely conscious of farmers’ struggle for survival, their dependence on the vagaries of the weather, and their lack of proper means of irrigation. Clues to an agrarian way of life and to the artist’s close sense of connectedness with farming and its communities abounded in the show. Foremost among them was the sickle, that signifier of peasants and of revolution. Divesting it of its wooden handle, Shambhavi has fashioned her own symbol. She has used this modified farm implement in several installations in the past, among them Maati Maa (Earth Mother), 2014–18, at the 2018–19 Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India. In her most recent show, she gathered several of the scythes together in Chiriya Udd (Bird Fly), which was evocative of a flock of frenzied birds taking wing. As their solid forms interacted with their furious shadows, they created an intricate interplay of lines on the gallery wall. In Dooaar. Door. Sacred, (Door. Door. Sacred) by contrast, three sickles traded in their intimate, handheld status for gigantic proportions. Perched on almost spindly legs, their intersecting spare forms strangely conjured up a Louise Bourgeois–meets–Alexander Calder moment. In Chupéy Kissay. Hidden Tales (Hidden Tales. Hidden Tales), three pairs of iron winnowing baskets suspended from the wall filtered light instead of grain. The baskets spoke of the intimacy and the camaraderie of village women exchanging stories of joy and woe while toiling to separate wheat from chaff. A viewer could also spy an intricate play of light in the pierced and undulating metal screen Vriksha Doori Vichitra. Tree. Iron Curtain (Tree Far Strange. Tree. Iron Curtain) and in the large perforated floral forms of Saundhi Saundhi.RainSoil (Petrichor Petrichor.Rain Soil).

A metal garland fashioned out of scoops from a Persian water wheel, originally driven by bullocks, was another piece of farming equipment that the artist repurposed for the exhibition. Shambhavi had suspended an earlier version of this work in the stairwell of Talwar Gallery during her last solo in the capital in 2015. The truncated and gently curved iteration in this show, titled Reerdha. Spine (Spine. Spine), resembled a spine with all its vertebrae. Quixotically enough, the object could have doubled as a multifooted centipede. A delicious sense of ambiguity swirled around many of Shambhavi’s creations: The curved stalk of a leaf might perhaps be the proboscis of a butterfly.