Art history, particularly of the Asian pictorial traditions, draws Nilima Sheikh towards the materials, surfaces and formats that could contain her interests. It encourages her to develop dialects to accommodate the lexicons of pre-modern art histories. Whether painting her home and neighbourhood as her children grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, or engaging with the issue of ‘dowry deaths’ while narrating the story, in serial folios, of a young girl who lost her life to the avarice of her marital family, Nilima Sheikh consistently seeks alternative ways of telling. She further enlists the support of parallel textual narratives and performative forms in her work. She has illustrated books for children and painted sets and backdrops for theatre; and allowed these experiences to flow into her work: sometimes small, miniature works on paper and sometimes large, proscenium-sized hanging canvas scrolls painted on both sides. She has searched the variables of feminine experience through folklore, oral poetry, contemporary historical annotations and neighbourhood experiences.
For the last decade, Nilima has engaged with the historical fates of Kashmir. In her work on the subject of Kashmir, historical textual references rub shoulders with medieval verses, folktales jostle with contemporary writing from/on Kashmir. Visual references come from South Asian, Himalayan, Persian, Turkish and even pre-Renaissance Italian art. Emerging from this exploration are a series of works on paper and a set of nine free-hanging scrolls on canvas collectively titled ‘Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams’
Born in New Delhi in 1945, Nilima Sheikh studied at Baroda between 1965 and 1971 and started exhibiting in 1969. Select group participations includeIndia Moderna, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Valencia (2008); Horn Please-Narratives in Contemporary Indian Art, Kunstmuseum Berne (2007);Tiger by the Tail, Brandeis University, Waltham/Boston (2007); Edge of Desire, cosponsored by the Asia Society, New York, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth Australia, and tour (2004-07); New Indian Art: Home-Street-Shrine-Bazaar-Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, UK (2002); The Second Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Australia (1996); Dispossession, Africus, First Johannesburg Biennale, South Africa (1995) etc.