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Sheba Chhachhi

Artist, born 1958 in Harar, Ethiopia, lives and works in Delhi.

In the exhibition "Yamuna" (curated by Ravi Agarwal):

The Water Diviner

Video projection, loup. Excerpted from a site specific installation with the same title using books, light, light boxes,
video and water at the Delhi Public Library, 2008.

72 700 Water Diviner 01.jpg

72 700 Water Diviner 02.jpg

72 700 Water Diviner 03.jpg

72 700 Water Diviner 04.jpg

72 700 Water Diviner 05.jpg

Sheba Chhachhi writes:

Every day thousands of anointed coconuts, wrapped in consecrated threads, in
turn wrapped in plastic bags plop into the water to float briefly before being
salvaged by scavenger divers who efficiently extract any usable material and
throw the rest back into the ever open arms of the mother river. Mothers, used to
taking on more than they can bear, inscribed within culture as all sacrificing, all
embracing. Mothers, who, as all children know, can always be relied on to clean
up, take care, save, protect, absorb, contain.

In myth the River Yamuna is Yamuna Devi, goddess, lover, mother to millions of
devotees. The huge repository of texts and ritual practices which inform her
worship, reveal a rich , embedded eco philosophy, articulating an ideal mode of
being in relation to the river, and to nature.

Why does this not translate into eco conscious behavior? Why does the devotee
seem indifferent to the fact that the river is dying? Why is there a disconnect
between the ecological wisdom embedded in our cultural practices and current
environmental conditions? Is it possible to simultaneously worship and destroy?

The feminine theology of water and nature works paradoxically. In itself, the act
of sacralizing nature can both generate the desire to protect and nurture as well
as obscure the need to protect. The divinity gets dematerialized – separated from
the embodied material body, perceived as all powerful and meta human, meta
physical, therefore not needing to be cared for by ordinary mortals.

On the other hand, evoking a relationship of love, desire and empathetic oneness
with the river, integral to a scared vision of nature, creates an experience of
being part of the integrated whole of the ecosystem for each individual.
However, for the alienated urban citizen, religious beliefs have often been
reduced to mechanical ritual and televised evangelism.

Could the recovery of a forgotten affinity with water, with the river as river and
as goddess , help develop an alternative ecological imaginary ? A way of
conceptualizing the environment that is neither instrumental, nor abstracted
piety? Could recuperating the mythic into an embodied perception of the river
offer a path of engagement with her desperate condition?

In my work as an installation artist and photographer, I seek to investigate the
historical and metaphoric relationships which mediate between human beings
and nature, ranging from the meteorological to the mytho‐poetic, the religious
to the mercantile.

In works such as the video installation Neelkanth: poison /nectar (2003) and
The Water Diviner (2008) to name just two, the mythic and the social conjoin to
open reflection on questions of urbanization, waste, cultural memory and the
possibilities of transformation. A series of works about the Yamuna bring
simultaneous times and realities into conversation. Here women , mythologized
or ordinary, are key protagonists appearing as displaced, dispossessed urban
survivors, mutants, goddesses…

These experiments continue, as I bear witness to the effects of globalization, the
rupture of personal and collective memory, and seek to affirm the possibility of
an alternative imaginary through my practice.

Sheba Chhachhi's work in Delhi for PROJECT Y: A Yamuna-Elbe Public Art and Outreach Project