“We will create such beauty with our hands that we will be loved by all,” Shilo Shiv Suleman
It is rare to be able to say in full confidence that an artist is changing the world. It is rarer, perhaps, to meet one of those rare individuals. Shilo Shiv Suleman is one such artist who I met (via another friend who is changing the world through her writing and activism) in Bangalore at an exhibition opening in Whitefield, on the 1st February 2016, also her birthday.
I was lucky enough to cross paths with her again in Bali in May of 2016 and attend her TedX Ubud talk which explored her fusion of art with technology, specifically, biofeedback technology. Her work pulls us closer to the natural world, and to ourselves, through technology. Stitching together art, technology, nature, urban spaces and the body sometimes literally – Shilo’s creations include wearable shrines and roses embroidered into cloth.
Her large-scale installation ‘Grove – the forest inside your lungs‘ is a beautiful example of the way her work surfs the meeting points of person, nature, and artefact: staged at Burning Man, 2016, it featured a field of trees that glowed as burners breathed into them; trees as lungs, according to my anatomy textbooks, the perfect analogy. Add to this installations that beat with your heart and lotuses that open in response to brain waves, and you have an expressive anatomical body of art that draws people closer to each other and closer to the natural world.
Her work also reaches from field and wall to page and screen; she illustrated her first book at the age of 16, and has published over 10 books since that time. Her first Ted Talk featured Khoya, a children’s book Shilo created for the iPad. In the story, two children seek to save a world where magic and love have disappeared. Shilo commented, “it’s often about finding links between traditional knowledge systems and contemporary platforms. I’m very interested in seeing technology act as a medium between art, storytelling and culture. I feel like technology should bring alive our cultural experiences.”
Space. Symbol. Story.
Shilo is also Director and Founder of The Fearless Collective (see their website and tumblr) which started as a reaction to the 2012 Delhi gang rape and is now a collective of over 250 artists who facilitate people-led storytelling and art that pursues social justice, replaces fear with trust, meets hate with love. A collective who “creates such beauty with our hands that we will be loved by all” (Shilo, speaking at a small event held at the Rio Helmi Gallery in Ubud a week after the TedX event in June, 2016).
The Fearless Collective engage the communities they visit through ritual and storytelling before co-creating murals on both physical and digital walls. Their work reclaims and redefines public space, gives a creative and expressive voice to the oppressed, the invisible, the maligned.
The Fearless Collective have already created work in Delhi and Mumbai, India, Johannesburg, South Africa, Bogor, Indonesia, Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan, and Olivenca, Brazil*, some in partnership with the FRIDA Young Feminist Fund, under the name FearlesslyFRIDA.
To see an artistic talent so vibrant, so unique, and so passionate is rare. For that talent to have cultivated a creative, collaborative social process that opens and changes hearts and minds is a stroke of genius. I will continue to watch with wonder and in awe to see what more Shilo brings to our world.
Happy Birthday, Shilo Shiv Suleman, you breathe beauty into life!
*The following project summaries are collated and edited versions of copy on the Fearless Collective website and Instagram feed:
In Delhi, The Fearless Collective collaborated with the organisation, Sewing New Futures, to bring to visibility to communities that have traditionally engaged in prostitution in Najafgarh.
In Mumbai, the Fearless Collective contributed to the Dharavi Biennale, create spaces for Dharavi community members, residents of one of the world’s largest informal settlements, to produce powerful, challenging art work while accessing critical public health information.
Johannesburg, South Africa
In Johannesburg, FearlesslyFRIDA collaborated with One in Nine campaign, formed as a response to the Zuma trial (South African President Jacob Zuma was on trial in 2006 for raping a friend’s daughter) and HOLAAfrica; organisations working together to document and showcase the lives of women and their stories.
In Jakarta, FearlesslyFRIDA collaborated with Transvoice to bring awareness to issues faced by the transgender ‘Waria’ community who are pushed towards the edges of society. Now, in an alley across from a mosque an image of a transgender woman peers out. Reclaiming the classical body language of feminine representations, but with shoulders wide, rough stubbled chin and tattooed chest, she says “aku adalah kamu”; “I am as you are”.
Fearless Karachi took place in Lyari, one of Pakistan’s oldest fishing villages frequently dismissed as violent and inaccessible. In Lyari, Fearless worked with the idea of ‘play’ as a reclamation of public spaces and our own fears.
The Fearless Collective workshop in Lahore partnered with Faizghar to explore the fears and emotions we pass on through words by creating a book of our own inherited warnings.
A collaboration with Pelas Mulheres, a FRIDA Young Feminist grantee, to reclaim an indigenous ancestral graveyard, sacred to the Tupinamba people, taken by the church as part of the ‘civilisation’ of Brazil.