The Body Keeps the Score: Ruby Chishti at Canvas Gallery


The Body Keeps the Score: Ruby Chishti at Canvas Gallery

Fragments; stitched and glued across the borders of an equally fragmented armature; dissipating, surreal and rendered as artifacts of absence and p

Yeh Pyaara Parcham | Muhammad Zeeshan
Living within 5″x7″

Fragments; stitched and glued across the borders of an equally fragmented armature; dissipating, surreal and rendered as artifacts of absence and presence, constitute the haunting installations of Ruby Chishti’s recent solo exhibition at Canvas Gallery. As one walks into the white cube space, rather than the traditional dynamic of subject and object, viewed and viewer, ‘What Fragment of You Survives in Me’, evokes a sensorial dimension unlike traditional gallery experiences.

Ruby Chishti is synonymous with soft-sculpture, intense emotion and visual lyricism. Having pushed the limits of installation, architectonics and tactile two and three-dimensional work, comprised of found-objects, detritus, and the ‘scrap-heap’ of consumerism, Chishti’s fearless experimentations are often requiems for broken psychological states and difficult emotions. It is a testament to her excellence that she examines resilience, compassion and evolution through ephemeral, sensitive compositions. Even the titles of her works exhibit defiance: the veritable phoenix-from-the-ashes of a charred psycho-scape ‘Some Trees are Born in Fire’ (Recycled Ceremonial Clothing, Thread, Polyester, Wire, Archival Glue; 60 x 47 x 10.5 Inches, 2022), extrapolate on the outmoded as a vehicle for rebirth. The Japanese term for attributing value to shards of cracked pottery rejoined by veins of gold, is ‘Kintsukorai’ or ‘Kintsugi’, a philosophy of aesthetics that honours the artifact’s unique history by emphasising, rather than hiding, the breaks. Similarly, a happy accident of renewal through suffering seems to find thematic threads in its physical counterparts within these, and other works by Chishti. A smattering of gold atop the bric-a-brac framework of artfully stiffened textile elicits the same raw candour and appreciation for memorializing the darker parts of human experience. Particularly poignant is ‘Mother Wake me up at Seven’ (Recycled Clothing, Wire Mesh, Thread, Dollhouse Windows, Paint, Archival Glue; 40 x 39 x 7 Inches, 2022) that dissects the ecology of memory; notably evocative of an idealized social structure.

Early in life, Chishti found the act of sewing to be a cathartic form of emotional mending. Those working in the fields of investigative psychology now understand that trauma becomes ingrained as physiological reactions to external and internal stimuli, visibly referenced in the architecture of the body; a macrocosmic view of co-dependent systems of functionality extending from the microcosm of human anatomy outwards (Van der Kolk, Bassel, ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma’, New York, Penguin Random House, 2015, 43-44)

“When words fail, haunting images capture the experience and return as nightmares and flashbacks…the vocabulary of events”. ‘Anonymous Biographies IV’, (Bull’s Horn, Leather Corset, Scraps of Fabric, Thong, Polyester, Gold Leaf, Thread, 41 x 27 x 14 Inches, 2022), captures this “ vocabulary of events” as a visceral study of traditional signifiers of ‘feminine allure’; sinister in its implicated pendulum between seduction and violence. Intriguingly, a duality surfaces wherein animalistic power via the bull’s head, coupled with the female torso, harkens to primitive cultural associations of matriarchal power. This eldritch tension between power, violence, and expression finds its parallels in fertility figurines and the Apollonian impetus to rationalise chaos into order. Chishti presents the dichotomies of power as a delicate dance of materiality: contrasting textures of softness moulded into a solid armature. Whereas this piece poses questions related to the mysteries of the ancient dance of the sexes through the evocative symbol of the bull, it is ‘All her Calves were Slaughtered’ (Cast Plaster, Recycled Cloth, Polyester, Thread, Gold Leaf, Paint, 16 x 12 x 6 Inches, 2022), that brings to the forefront the theme of the bull/cow. Manifest as a woman tenderly embracing a supine cow, this piece speaks of the sanctity of the mundane and the veneration of the ‘holy cow’ as ‘all-mother’. The Hindu bovine-goddess Kamadhenu, also known as Surabhi, is worshipped through her earthly embodiments, thus connecting the transcendent and immanent. The scraps of fabric layered and stitched reveal snippets of symbolism, such as the iconic lotus flower borne of earthly dross yet reaching beyond the mud of its roots, towards the purity of the riverbed. The divine aspect of the feminine is thus represented as two-pronged by Chisthi’s lexicon; a tightly wound fever-dream of fabric constructing the human figure engaged in the act of doing, while her mirror Gau-Mata sits passively in the state of being. Together, they lament the titular ‘slaughter’, indicative of the disregard for women and women’s rights within the many spheres of their lives.

Profoundly autobiographical yet deeply universal in appeal, the three-dimensional pieces, comprised of an imaginatively resourceful range of mediums in ‘Fragments’, stem from Chishti’s penchant for both psychological and physical re-imagining of contexts. The body as the ‘home’, or a physical marker of an intangible experience manifests as miniature windows, appearing in various renditions across mannequin-esque forms that mimic architecture. Chishti’s architectures of the body converge at the vector of gender politics, death and the passage of time, migration and memory.