Hema Shironi Joseph is a multidisciplinary artist who lives in Kilinochchi in Sri Lanka. Her practice examines the porous and fragile notions of identity and place—seen as such particularly by those raised by parents from two opposing cultures, and who (as migrants) lead a nomadic life, displaced because of civil war or the historic consequences of colonisation.Read More
Shironi speaks both Tamil and Sinhala, the languages of the two opposing factions within the Sri Lankan Civil War that ended in 2009.
In 2019, Shironi graduated with a BFA (Visual Arts) from the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Following this, she embarked on an MFA (Visual Arts) at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, Pakistan.
Much of Shironi's activity involves using stitched thread on translucent muslin or heavier canvas as a method of drawing to elucidate personal narratives, the transience and vulnerability of migrating communities, and paradoxical political tensions around 'identity'. These embroideries are incorporated into sculptures, along with found objects such as cushions, shoulder bags, patches, fragments of fabric and photographs, printed paper, steel mesh, and linear blocks of stacked stitched patterns.
Shironi learnt sewing skills from her mother and grandmother, who were expert tailors. It so happens she dislikes a feminist interpretation of her choice of media. She doesn't see her sewing as a political action per se. Instead, it is a means to an end: a way of telling stories.
Born to a Catholic father and Hindu mother, who regularly took their family through Buddhist as well as Hindu enclaves, Shironi is sensitive to multiple religious viewpoints, while the family's frequent resettlement made it hard to have any consistent comprehension of such localities, though she speaks of having 'nostalgia' for some—evidenced by her later detailed stitched recollections.
She is also aware of the damage large groups of traversing communities have on the landscape and environment. It too is changing, like the people that travel over it.
From these fond memories of living in rented houses in various cities, Shironi has created sewn collections of images that fit into her installations or sculptures: floorplans of buildings, articles of clothing owned at the time, animals living in proximity, chickens, dogs, plants, baskets, rows of houses with satellite dishes, powerlines wrapped around insulators, rock walls with flowers, tilted grids, sentences of words, buses, cars, streets in perspective, fences, distant horizon lines, windows with curtains, trees, military enclosures. These are seen in her embroidered series 'Walking House', 'Blend with the Surroundings', 'Buried Alive Stories', and 'Land Framed Picture'.
The hanging coloured cotton threads are not snipped off or tidied up. The making process is deliberately left visible. There is a calculated chaos that the viewer is invited to visually sift through to find an image that intrigues, and to zero in on detail.
For Shironi, 'Existence is migratory... Living in one place is not what life is about.' In other words, as we move around, we embrace different locations and different communities that affect us mentally. Our attitudes and beliefs are never fixed. She puts it this way: 'Identity to me is flexible. It can change in a moment, who we are, are (sic) the stories we tell ourselves and allow other[s] to tell of ourselves.'
Hemi Shironi has exhibited in group shows in Sri Lanka, including Sea Change, Colomboscope Interdisciplinary Arts Festival, Rio Complex, Colombo (2019); Being and Becoming, Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo (2018); Theertha Performance Workshop, Theertha Artist Collective, Colombo (2017); and Open Edit: Mobile Library - from AAA to Raking Leaves, Colombo (2013).
Shironi's debut solo show Rented Shadow and Neighbours was held at Saskia Fernando Gallery, Colombo in 2021.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021