Sheela Gowda, 'Behold' 2009
Tate Modern

Sheela Gowda

Boiler House Level 4 West
Sheela Gowda, Behold 2009. © Sheela Gowda

See Sheela Gowda’s spectacular installation Behold, made from car bumpers and human hair

Sheela Gowda’s large-scale installation Behold consists of two contrasting materials, steel car bumpers and knotted human hair.

Gowda’s work is rooted in her experience of daily life in Bengalaru (formerly Bangalore), India, observing the coexistence of ritual and superstition alongside modern urban and economic transformation. For Behold 2009 she was inspired by the humble talismans of human hair that are knotted around car bumpers to ward off bad luck. The hair comes from local temples, where it is cut off as a sacrificial offering when pilgrims fulfil sacred vows. In today’s consumer driven world, the longer lengths are sold to make wigs or supply keratin for beauty products, while the shorter sections are kept to make protective talismans, such as those used by motorists.

Gowda has assembled roughly four thousand metres of corded hair into netted mesh forms. Hanging from the ceiling to wrap around and suspend the chromed steel car bumpers, the fragile hair supports the stronger, heavier metal, just as it is believed to protect the technologically advanced machine.

The hair is all hand-woven. Gowda’s highly intensive, process-driven approach highlights the precarious state of manual labour and human effort in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world.

Curated by Nada Raza.


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Who is Sheela Gowda?

Get to know one of the artists from our Material Worlds display at Tate Modern