Oil on canvas
54 x 48 inches
Shailee Mehta’s work blends the personal and the historical in an investigation of memory, narrative, imagination and nostalgia. Mangrove, titled after the ecologically significant plant that is found in several places in India, sees two female figures carry a mangrove branch amongst a densely wooded landscape. Mangrove wood is red underneath its brown bark exterior, and, for the artist, offers a visceral signifier of flesh. Here we see a mangrove branch being carried as a wounded body, alluding to the depleting and disappearing status of many plant species due to climate change. The imagery is indicative of this loss but also an imagining of a kind of convalescence.
Mehta is interested in the intersection of contemporary society with the natural world – where attitudes range from reverence to caretaking to possession. One of the figures in the composition is shadowed by a black dog who strides forward next to them. The dog here acts as an allegory for the feral or wild, a juxtaposition to the lifeless wooden body in the women’s arms.
The artist’s rich tonal application of paint lends her figures a monumentality which contrasts them against the softer greens and greys of the landscape. Rendered in yellows, pinks and reds the women appear absorbed in their task. Mehta seeks to refute patriarchal tropes and invigorate her female figures with an agency in which they can explore their own identities and forms. Looking inwards at each other, the figures in Mangrove deny the voyeuristic gaze of the viewer, instead Mehta allows for a more nuanced reading in which multiple meanings are made possible.
Shailee Mehta’s practice draws from an ongoing dialogue between a personal space of imagination and nostalgia, and the weaving of history, memory and contemporary narratives. Working extensively with elements of figuration and embodiment, Mehta situates the female body as a central agential subject in her explorations around femininity and visibility. Her work is descriptive of a poetics of space where elements of the interior and the exterior blend into each other: hence her protagonists are placed in domestic settings and yet their features, colours and forms merge with their natural environment, giving them an unsettling ‘untamed’ appearance. Rooted in the female gaze, her female figures subvert patriarchal tropes, and the narratives of looking and being looked at take up multiple meanings such as desire, contemplation or rejection.
Shailee Mehta (b. 1998) received a BFA from the Slade School of Fine Art in 2020. Her work has been exhibited in India, France and the UK, including a solo exhibition at Indigo + Madder, London in June 2023. Mehta’s work has been featured in several publications including It’s Nice That, Metal Magazine and Elle India. She lives and works in Goa, India.