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Sheba Chhachhi

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1958, Harare, Ethiopia
Lives and works in New Delhi

Sheba Chhachhi  is known for her innovative and thoughtful use of multiple media to depict various issues relating to urbanization and women. She is credited for creating a new art form through ‘lightboxes’ and uses repetition of form to build her own signature style. She began her artistic career with documentary photography which remains a key aspect in her current works as well.


National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad

Studied at Delhi University


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Animals are a common feature in her works

Sheba Chhachhi has used animals, particularly birds in her light boxes. More often than not, the birds are flying either to the left side of the screen or are facing forward. The animals’  bright colours posit themselves in sharp contrast with that of the background which is duller. This sort of monotony in her lighthouses gives a sense of floating presence of still figures that in a way alludes to the way life exists in the universe.  The contrast of the animals with the background is symbolic of urbanization, decay and what we have lost in our attempt to gain something. The animals seem to be fleeing this mockery of the world and going to a safe haven.

Sheba Chhachhi, Peacok Lute, 2006, moving image lightbox from "Winged Pilgrims: A Chronicle from Asia", digital print on duratrans/clear films 3 layers, 40 x 20".

Contrasting colours are used to create an impact

The colours used in her lightboxes are usually in contrast with each other. The background is usually duller than the foreground. This ignites a view of difference between the two and challenges the viewer to dwell upon any latent symbolic meaning in the artwork. The foreground and background are to be judged independently before seeing their effect on each other. The colours substitute the need of words to symbolize the dissonance in Chhachhi’s depictions and this dissonance recurs from one work to another when looked at in succession.

Sheba Chhachhi, Seventy Synonyms for water, 2013, moving Image Lightbox, 4 Layers-Print on glass and digital prints on duratrans, 53.9 X 34.9".

A new and interesting artistic language through 'lightboxes'

Sheba Chhachhi is credited for creating a new art form known as light boxes. In it, Chhachhi uses still pictures, in a series, in such a way that they create a cinematic effect. The devices, modelled on “plasma action TV toys” from China, allowed her to layer still images and mechanically move them in a loop. Chhachhi’s objective in coming up with this idea was due to people’s inability to give pictures the necessary time and attention to truly appreciate them. According to her, "The light box offers a different sense of time because it is neither still nor moving ."

Most of her recent work revolves around this concept. This new method of art is an expression of Chhachhi’s creative instincts and evolution as a photographer and is an example of the vast canvas that is art.

Sheba Chhachhi, Rati Parakeet, 2006, moving image lightbox from "Winged Pilgrims: A Chronicle from Asia", digital print on duratrans/clear films 3 layers, 40 x 20".

Bringing about multiplicity through the repetitive use of form

Most of Chhachhi’s work, especially the light boxes have a repetition of form. This multiplicity of form though uniform in appearance, holds a power to make the viewer realize that they are as distinct from each other as an apple is from a pair of socks. When each figure is held in view individually, they hold a very different meaning than the figure next to it. The placement of the object also contributes to the meanings attributed to it by the viewer. This multiplicity of form in most of her work is monotonous but not exhausting to look at and makes her work, easy to recognize.

Sheba Chhachhi, Jamuna 3, 2005, moving image lightbox, mixed media, 39 x 19 x 4”.

Chhachhi's artistic oeuvre reflects her feminism along with covering a plethora of issues

Chhachhi’s work covers several various issues like urbanization, globalization, ecological violence and the position of women. She began her career as a documentary photographer and has covered women’s movements over the years. Her teen and youth were spent travelling with her family. She spent her formative years with mystics and folksingers before getting involved in the feminist movement in India. She also documented for ten years the lives of women ascetics.

She has also expressed her thoughts against pollution and the negative impact of urbanization through her art works. Her artworks touch on culture and other socially specific topics to form a connection with the viewer. Some of her work seems to play with myths and society at the same time. The contrasts that she tries to create in her interpretations of issues carry a strong political undertone.

Sheba Chhachhi, Kaha Bird, 2006, from "Winged Pilgrims: A Chronicle from Asia".