I am a multidisciplinary artist from Bangalore, studied in MS University. Currently practicing in Bangalore, Karnaraka. My work has developed in number of ways over the years yet from the very beginning of my art practice, I have workded in Painting, Printmaking, Installation, Video Art and Live/ Performance art. My intention is to blend these mediums into an interdisciplinary language.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Jennie Klien on Dimple B Shah

Rites of Passage

During the seventies, feminist artists turned to performance art in order to make ritualistic pieces that invoked a non-patriarchal religious spirituality. At the time, invoking a mother goddess to counteract 50,000 years of patriarchal rule seemed like a radical act. Just ten years later, invoking the mother goddess and using ritual was no longer viewed as being so radical. In fact, western feminist scholars and critics, many of whom were being appointed to positions within the academy, were somewhat embarrassed by cultural feminist art, which they saw as essentially flipping the patriarchal binary hierarchy of male/culture/language vs. women/nature/the body without questioning what it meant to embrace that binary, and why it was embraced in the first place. What had previously been radical was seen as hopelessly naive, simplistic, and guilty of cultural appropriation. Thus the critic Craig Owens, in his much cited two part article “The Discourse of Others,” published in The Anti-Aesthetic (edited by Hal Foster) in 1983, did not mention any artists who were working with images of the goddess, even though artist such as Marybeth Edelson and Betsy Damon were working in New York City, where Owens was based.

The western suspicion of feminist spirituality was not a global phenomenon. Significantly, feminist performance artists who were not educated or enculturated in the global north continued to make work informed by ritual and cultural tradition. Contemporary artists as diverse as Alejandra Herrera de Silva, Graciela Ovejero Postigo, Amanda Heng, AOR NOpowan, Monali Meher, Chinasa Vivian Ezugha, and Dimple B Shah have used ritual and spirituality in their work, with powerful results. Shah’s performances reference the everyday rituals that are all around her in Bangalore, India, without specifically engaging with one religion. In her own work, deliberate ritualistic actions are performed against a colorful and music-filled background. Shah’s work, as seen in her recent performance for Flow, harnesses the ancient idea of the feminine in order to speak to the importance of women’s rights today.

The description for this workshop promised the following to the participants:

This workshop will guide us in a process of reconnection to connect us to a deeper consciousness. I will draw on various techniques and methods that will help us to join random points of connection. These processes are developed from research on into performative rituals from my culture. I have been incorporating these elements and, it has helped me seek my answers. It is the process one can follow to start with, to form their style and language. These processes are a foundation for future understanding of self with Nature and our surroundings. This workshop seeks to be a journey to activate inner consciousness aligning to the macrocosmic and microcosmic world.

In addition to this, participants who had signed up received the following list prior to the first day:

Materials required –
Big Bowl, Water, Soil/ Earth
Steel container Oil olive, salt, Match box, Tissue wipes /or small cloth towel Flowers available in your area colours of you choices 3 Variety
Making of Sweet -Almond, milk, honey, Rice, soil/earth,

Scented Candle/ or plain – small one or
Incense sticks flower essence,
Cardamom 5 or 7 numbers
Clove 10 number
Cinnamon- two stick

These materials, which can be seen in Shah’s performances (http://dimplebshah.blogspot.com/) and in many of the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain religious ceremonies that surrounded Shah as she grew up, constituted the rituals that the participants would reference. However, this workshop was not about appropriating Indian spirituality and meditational techniques on the way to becoming physically fit, which is the case with most yoga practices in the west. Rather, it was about providing participants with a toolbox that they could use in order to make their own rituals without appropriating so-called exotic or foreign cultures. Shah was careful to distinguish between ritualistic worship of deities that are specific to Indian religions and ritualistic actions that are specific to the person who is embodying those actions. She asked the participants to do the same.

The workshop took place over two Thursdays and two Fridays, separated by a week. On the first day, the participants introduced themselves and Shah gave a presentation that included documentation of everyday rituals in Indian culture along with a discussion of several performances that she had done. The session ended with the participants plunging their hands into bowls of water, and then pushing their feet into a containers of soil or dirt. Participants were encouraged to combine the soil and water to make a Goddess shape.

On Day 2, the participants were tasked with two things. First, to try and count grains of rice up to 500. The action was surprisingly soothing, and took a long time. 500 grains of rice can fit easily on a small plate, and yet no one finished counting in less than 15 minutes. The second action was to take the goddess figure that had been made the day prior and decorate her with flowers that were either found or purchased. The flower arrangements that were reminiscent of modernist abstract art, artfully arranged and bordering on the abstract. Each participant gave a different narrative for why the flowers were chosen; several combined their flowers with the rice.

Day 3, required some improvisation as an email that was supposed to go out to the participants did not reach them. Shah had planned to lead the group in making an offering of rice, enhanced with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves and sweetened with sugar and milk, for the earth goddess figure from the previous week. Upon realizing that the participants were not prepared, Shah pivoted and led an exploration of the Chakras, or 7 energy centers along the spine. Shah took her time explaining the mudras/hand gestures, location/meaning, and chants of the Chakras. The workshop concluded with a demonstration for how to make the sweet offering to the goddess, which the participants did on their own following the conclusion of the workshop.

Day 4 was devoted to rituals performed by the participants. But first, an unexpected challenge had to be overcome: a power outage on Shah’s end, which knocked everyone out of the zoom meeting. Fortunately one of the participants was able to create an alternate zoom meeting that allowed the workshop to continue. The final meeting gave space to the ritualistic and spiritual performances devised by the workshop participants. One participant performed a dancing ritual in their living space that referenced their childhood in Mexico. A second participant, based in Ireland, went outside and took off her clothing before brushing her long hair. A third, who was not able to be present, did a performance around the similarity between food made for offerings in Honduras and Bangalore. I did a ritual with a goddess that I had made with an aloe plant, which I swathed in cloth, decorated with flowers, and offered a portion of the treat I had made just that morning. My goddess was tongue-in-cheek, but also serious. The ritual was local–the day prior I had walked around my Ohio neighborhood to collect wildflowers to include on the altar.

In spite of power outages, internet issues, and time differences, the workshop was a sensory experience that pushed the participants outside of their comfort zones.

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