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Sculpture (MA)

Divya Sharma

The weight of the letter the mnemonic activator of spoken stories. As the hills and bending grasses spoke to our ancestors, so do written words speak to us ..hearing printed shapes as a magical gateway revealing new secrets of the cosmos.

The trajectory of my project this year started with my learning to read and write my mother tongue Tamil, online, from May of 2020. The intention was to not only to reconnect with my heritage but also to find a foothold within the diaspora in the UK. I clocked the feeling of longing and nostalgia I felt while seeing the script come alive with every week and used it to push towards understanding the idea of identity, sovereignty, nationhood and diaspora. As an Indian born British citizen, the critical edge of the work was also to question boundaries, the borderlands, exile, otherness, strangeness and foreignness amongst diasporic communities while working on my own sense of misalignment. I have made many iterations with the concept, working with fabric manipulation, installations with objects, performance and film.

As part of my practise, I was able to engage with the local Tamil diaspora (the diaspora includes communities both from South India and Sri Lanka). I have collaborated with classical dancers and together we have choreographed dance routines as a way of embodying tradition, movement and emotion. I am also part of the Tamil Museum project in London.

During the lockdown I have had the chance to re-evaluate my working methods. The limitations faced working in a home studio has allowed me to think differently, but still be ambitious with materials, scale and in learning new skills.

I live and work in London, UK.

Education

MA in Sculpture RCA 2021

BA in Painting (Hon) Wimbledon College of Art UAL, London 2019

Diploma in Fine Art Putney School of Art and Design 2013

Group Shows

Show Royal College of Art London (2020) Vasteras International Art Fair Sweden (2020) ‘For Money or Love’ Group show Copeland Gallery Peckham (2019) ‘Fully awake III’ Wimbledon College of Art (2019) The Toast Rack, Artisan Bakery & Cafe | Wandsworth | London (2018) ‘Netflix and chill’ Group show at the Flying Dutchman Camberwell (2018) ‘Neulinge’ The Crypt Gallery St Pancras, London (2018) Khojaly Competition finalists’ exhibition at the Parliament House London (2017) Made in Morley, Print Exhibition Morley College London (2016) Sculpture Exhibition Kings College School Wimbledon, London (2015) Open Studios Wimbledon Art Studios May and Nov (2015) Studio 106 Group Exhibition 'Seven' Fulham Broadway, London (2013) Fulham Community Centre Exhibit| Fulham, London (2013)

Curatorial Projects

Figure it Out – Group Show by The Neulinge Collective at the Lewisham Arthouse 2021, Podcast founder and Host called ARTiculate – since May 2020, Neulinge - Group show at the Crypt Gallery St Pancras 2018 Went to work, Came back – Co-curator of archival show at the South London Gallery 2018

Conferences and Lectures

The Architecture of Loss – RCA MRes and Architecture Foundation - Presenter 2020, The World that was – From 1500 to 1800 AD – Understanding the relationship between Europe and Asia on the cusp on colonisation 2020

Awards

RCA Gilbert Bayes Trust Award 2021

Shortlisted for the Khojaly Prize in 2017


My work reflects my lived experience sparked by incidents that have interested me, and leads onto the larger political context to give voice to the marginalised, under-represented and overlooked. The autobiographical and fictional narratives in my projects explore infinite and unforeseen possibilities for our entanglement with each other. It is grounded on the zeitgeist in terms of world politics, culture, post-colonial studies and social justice with particular emphasis on the status of women and migrant communities. I present a multiplicity of viewpoints and voices through the lens of my having lived in different spaces, cultures and languages. My practise is research-based and I work across various media and art forms, including video, performance and sound. I make installations that are related to existing reality and yet at the same time point beyond it. Each work is treated like a separate project and is approached using different perspectives depending on the theme, space that its being shown in, the materials used and how the viewer might navigate around it.

Fragmented Realities
Working drawing of one of the pieces — To qualify as a classical tradition, a language must fit several criteria: it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature. Tamil meets each of these requirements. As an ode to this I used several of the rounded letters of the Tamil alphabet string to loop and spiral around to create unique patterns that took on a significance of their own (as above).
Working drawings — Final vectorised drawing that would be the guide for the laser cutting machine to distinguish between the red line (score) or the blue line (engrave) before cutting into the pattern.

The mirrored acrylic objects are made up drawings of entangled letters of the Tamil alphabet string that have been vectorised and laser cut onto the mirror. I use mirrors to draw upon their powerful symbolism and their use in art history in working with complex ideas of the gaze and identity.

The mirrored cut-outs in my installation have taken on a significance of their own. They have become versions of me. Like me, they do not belong to any specific place and cannot return anywhere. They are in a state of constant exile. Their jagged edges are metaphors for my fragmented identities, where I see only fluctuation, distortion, dissimulation. One might call them as hybrids, but they really are out of focus, always jumbled, with not being able to see a specific image in the mirror. Like V S Naipaul’s ‘Mimic Men’ ‘they have a pronounced sense of estrangement, resulting from a relatively recent introduction into an unfamiliar landscape, which is aggravated by a failure to establish satisfactorily their position in the racially complex society of their own environment.’ They are a kind of mirror-maze, where they find themselves searching for a sense of who they are. There is a sense of endless circularity and repetition with the mirrors reflecting its surroundings, a disjointed labyrinth of perception and reality. Yet, despite their disorientation, despite their not knowing where they are in terms of up or down or left or right, they still stand upright. They convert their limitation to access and power. There is a subversion of the symmetry.




Medium:

Mirrored acrylic sheets and Blueback wallpaper

Size:

11 pieces 60 x 40 cms each / wallpaper 5 metres
Paravai
Vilanku
Iyarkai
Pambu

My research led me to books by Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh’s ‘On Decoloniality’. In the book the authors dissect the foundations of colonialism and talk about the three pillars of colonialism being Racism, Sexism and Nature. It was through the control and management of knowledge that this colonial matrix of power was created, managed, transformed and controlled. They argue that nature and culture are two concepts that make no sense in non-western indigenous cultures. My wallpaper was a response to this assertion. The patterns in the wallpaper also suggest the idea of the feminine, and particularly the domestic. I am interested in the historic understanding of the social hierarchies and divisions underpinning the colonial project. 

I have made four versions with particular colours and a combination of photos and drawings. Each of them evoke a particular mood and atmosphere.

Medium:

Blueback Wallpaper

Size:

Variable

The Prick and Stitch Alliance Residency at the Standpoint Gallery allowed me to experiment with embroidery for the the first time. There is a long association of embroidery and female domesticity and Rozsika Parker's book 'The Subversive Stitch' traces the separation of the craft of embroidery from the Fine Arts as a major force in the marginalisation of women's work. As a student in the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus in Germany in the 1920s, Anni Albers also came to realize that she had stumbled onto the very crux of creation: that weaving was an art that linked her to a distant past. 

For this project, I have taken an image of an epigraph or rock carving of the proto-Tamil script that is carbon dated to be 2000 years old (from Tamilnadu India), and have got it digitally printed it on muslin cloth. I have then used needle punch embroidery to mimic the process of carving to trace the letters of the language and thus find a (re)connection with my ancestors and heritage that is so familiar yet so elusive. The words ‘You will always be with me’ is needle punched into the cloth reminiscent of graffiti. This was an opportunity for me to literally materialise making a real object with a connection to my ancestors and family. 


Medium:

Fabric with embroidery

Size:

100 x 130 cms

As I have been exploring border zones as this way of being a diasporic subject though in my context there was a kind of reverse process which meant I had to prove my being part of the Tamil diaspora in the UK by speaking the language well. This still is challenging because for me, it’s the layer of a ‘version’ of English language and thought and culture through literature, popular culture that is always present like a filter that makes me look at my own heritage and origins like an outsider. My 50 second performance piece captured on video of me painting the cross with red paint across my face. It is to show that the idea of the colonial enterprise was to ‘mark’ the subjects in some way that altered how they saw themselves and their identity in the world. In my research on linguistics, I learnt that children learn fastest through mimesis, that is through mime and gestures and understanding the rhythm of the language to express themselves before really learning the formal vocabulary of the language. The claps in the video are my attempts to capture the rhythms of Tamil while surrendering to the inevitable filter of English in my learning process.


Medium:

Video

Size:

50 seconds
Working methods

John Akomfrah’s iconic 1985 film “Last angel of history’ that references speculative futures and Afro futurism showed me the next steps in developing my theme. Further scholarship by Arman Avanessian and Mahan Moalemi in their paper ‘Ethnofuturisms’ helped solidify the thinking behind my film that is part performance, part ritual and part fantasy.  It is a psychological invocation of the borderland, a place created by emotional residue, of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition, the prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants. I use the body in masquerade, the body that refuses to be recognised, refuses categorisation. I unravel scenes from invented futures at the same time allude to ancestors, forms of divinity and monstrosity. I am also referencing both south Asian iconography and Goddess cults and asserting my femininity as a member of the black diasporic community. The film is a collage of different scenes, cut up and staccato, (much like the mirrored cut-outs) with a prophetic and poetic narrative going through its length. was composed in collaboration with the theme and mood in mind. The soundscape of the film follows the structure of the images, it is an assemblage of found music and original score with the narrative element. The texture of the music has a haptic quality to it and aims to add to the internal monologue.

W E B Du Bois talks about a double consciousness experienced by colonised people, it means ‘always looking at oneself through the eyes of the coloniser and measuring oneself by the standards of the colonising nation that looked back in contempt’. This double consciousness can also be applied to women living in patriarchal societies. By playing the protagonist in my film, as a shaman wearing her otherness and alienness for all to see, I am rewriting my own narrative for the future, I revel in my multiplicity, in my search for that elusive place called ‘home’.


Medium:

Video

Size:

4 minutes
Bharatanatyam dance routine by Prakruthi and Suruthi
Bharatanatyam dance routine by Shiyamali Manoharan — Background song is by Denuja Ratna

As part of the engagement with the Tamil diaspora, I have collaborated with classical Bharatanatyam dancers to let them choreograph a routine based on the idea of tracing the language. This was done remotely and finally recorded in person in the local community space. The idea was to have a live performance at some point in the future accompanying my artwork in a show.

I am also part of the Tamil Museum project in London which is in its digital avatar at the moment. This is meant to be an archive and a record of the Tamil culture, origins, objects, people, and their histories from all over the world. The Tamil language forms an invisible border transgressing national boundaries including Tamilnadu in South India and parts of Sri Lanka. Owing to the ethnic troubles in the 90s in Sri Lanka there is a huge Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora settled all over the world who look to their language as their proverbial nation. 


Medium:

video

Size:

2 minutes