Over the last three decades, Sheba Chhachhi has developed an art practice that traverses the fields of documentary and photography, installation and video, as well as new media, creating immersive environments and bringing the contemplative into the political, in both site-specific public art and independent works.
Born in 1958 in Harare, Ethiopia, Sheba Chhachhi returned to India when she was three years old, to continue a peripatetic childhood, moving to a new Indian city every two or three years. Dissuaded from pursuing her interest in the arts by the conventional wisdom of the time, she studied Economics at Delhi University and graduated with honours in 1977. She went on to study at one of the first media studies centres in India, the Chitrabani Centre for Social Communication, Kolkata, set up by the distinguished film scholar Fr. Gaston Roberge in association with Satyajit Ray.
At Chitrabani, exposed to rich and varied thinking and practice in film, photography, theatre, folk and new media, Chhachhi developed analytical frameworks and ways of reading the complex terrain of media and society. Active in theatre and spoken word performance in Delhi University, she continued this engagement in Kolkata, performing in stage productions and participating in physical theatre and actor training workshops with Badal Sircar and Deepak Majumdar amongst others, as well as researching rural performance practices, especially of the Bauls. She then trained in visual communication at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, with a focus on graphic design and photography.
In 1980 Sheba Chhachhi co-founded, with Jogi Panghaal, ‘Lifetools’ in New Delhi: a research-oriented media and design practice committed to socially useful design, working with and for urban and rural communities, activist groups and people’s movements. Deeply engaged with the women’s movement in India as both an activist and a documentary photographer, she built an archive across the 1980s.
Founder-member of the Saheli collective and co-founder of Jagori, a women’s resource and communication centre, she was part of a network of feminists conducting workshops with rural and urban women’s groups in India and South Asia for about a decade. She was also part of a group of architects and planners developing alternative urban models, and a co-founder of GREHA, a non-profit society for research on environmental development, habitat design and architecture.
By 1990, Sheba Chhachhi began working as an independent artist, experimenting with sculpture and ceramics, and staged collaborative photography. She trained at the Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi, Andretta Potteries, Himachal Pradesh and the Frei Akademi, Den Haag, Netherlands. In 1993, she was among the first few Indian artists to produce installation art. She has created a number of large photo-based installations incorporating light, sound and the moving image, and pursued long-term photography projects such as on women-ascetics and the female body.
Chhachhi experiments across the spectrum of durational mediums from pre-cinematic animated lightboxes to virtual reality interactivity, as well as in diverse sites: community centres, galleries, shopping malls, public institutions. These experiments are marked by a special interest in exploring relationships with viewers/participants.
Since 1999, public art interventions have been a significant aspect of her work.
Sheba Chhachhi has published articles, and conducted workshops, research and projects in both institutional and non-formal contexts. She has given talks and presented papers at universities, museums, cultural centres and biennales, both nationally and internationally. She was a Townsend Fellow at University of California, Berkeley in 2005; visiting faculty at Ambedkar University Delhi in 2012; and Visiting Research Professor, Mario Miranda Chair at School of Architecture, University of Goa in 2015. She was awarded the Juror’s Prize for contemporary art in Asia by the Singapore Art Museum in 2011. Sheba Chhachhi lives and works in New Delhi.
- Subhadra, 1979
- Seven Lives and a Dream, 1990-91
- Ganga's Daughters (meetings with women ascetics ), 1992 -2002
- Wild Mothers I: The Wound is the Eye (Not Available), 1993
- Wild Mothers II: The Miracle is the Witness (Not Available), 1994
- Cleave/ Cleave To, 1997
- Notes to the Body, 1997
- Raktpushp (Blood Flower), 1997
- Itbari Khan Ke Hath, 1999 - 2011
- with Sonia Jabbar: ‘When The Gun Is Raised, Dialogue Stops...’: Women's Voices From The Kashmir Valley, 2000
- Neelkanth (Blue Throat): Poison/ Nectar, 2000/ 2003/ 2008
- The Initiation Chronicle , 2001-2007
- Cellular Memories, 2002
- Warrior/ Saint, 2002
- The Mermaid's Mirror, 2005
- Winged Pilgrims: A Chronicle from Asia, 2006/2008
- Edible Birds, 2007
- Silver Sap, 2007
- She Drew Up A Sheet Of Water, 2009
- Record/ Resist, 2012
- Temporal Twist, 2017
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