Nilima Sheikh’s Art a Tribute to ‘Omnipresent’ Malayali Nurse
Kochi: American poet Theodore Deppe had once noticed that nursing is an art that judges many sciences. It’s a ‘’way of practising the art of attention”, goes the quote, which finds timely invocation among a dozen such nuggets of wisdom in a work at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
The artist at the festival’s main venue is veteran Nilima Sheikh. The Baroda-based painter’s five-panel image at the Aspinwall House is a tribute to the world’s nursing community, with centrality to the largely omnipresent Malayalis in it. Nilima, 73, “takes inspiration from the global presence” of the uniformed female healthcare professionals hailing from Kerala.
The nurse, who is a critical presence in hospitals, is often referred to as ‘sister’. That respectful moniker translates into ‘chechi’ in mainstream Malayalam. Aptly, Nilima has titled her biennale work ‘Salam Chechi’.
“It’s a salute to these women who are sisters to all, and their natural affinity towards one of the most laborious and indispensable roles in the world,” says the Delhi-born artist, who did her art studies from the MS University. Nilima’s work has references also to the killing of a Malayali nurse in Libya in May 2016 following which the Kerala Government made efforts to bring the ‘sisters’ safe to their native place. It celebrates the unsung in the medical field, according to the art fraternity.
‘Salam Chechi’, incidentally, was the first work to qualify for the 2018 biennale. The announcement had come from curator Anita Dube on December 12, 2017, exactly a year before the start of the 108-day festival.
The Kochi Biennale Foundation, too, highlights the significance of the work. “For all its criticality, nursing continues to be a sector riddled with exploitation of all sorts,” notes artist Bose Krishnamachari, president of the 2010-formed Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) and himself a Malayali. “Nilima’s work is a note of respect to the nurses of the world,” he added.