Shubigi Rao is a polymath, she is an archivist, visual artist and writer known for her complex layered installations of books, drawings, metaphysical puzzles, ideological board games, garbage and archives. Her work has been extensively exhibited and hoarded internationally. She is also a part-time lecturer of Art Theory and is an MFA Dissertation supervisor for the Faculty of Fine Arts at LASALLE College of Arts, Singapore. As a mark of her excellence in art and archives, Rao has been selected as the curator of the fifth edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale commencing from December 12, 2020.

Key Takeaways:

  • Shubigi Rao is an artist, writer, archivist based in Singapore, born in Mumbai, India.
  • She has been selected as the curator of the fifth edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale commencing from December 12, 2020.
  • Her major interests as an artist are archaeology, language, libraries, acts of cultural genocide, contemporary art theory, neuroscience and natural history.
  • She wrote under a male pseudonym for ten years to gather honest criticism for her works.

Her education and interest as an artist

43-year-old Rao was born in Mumbai in 1975 and raised in Darjeeling and Nainital. She completed her Bachelors of Arts in English from Delhi University and obtained a Master of Arts degree from LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore.  Her major interests as an artist are archaeology, language, libraries, acts of cultural genocide, contemporary art theory, neuroscience and natural history. The complex layered installation she is renowned for is her skill to connect varied fields together in her work.

“As a woman, I would always be that female artist talking about feminism. The content of my work would never be critiqued. The pseudonym helped me be myself and became a very interesting outlet for me.”

According to Hindustan Times, Bose Krishnamachari, the president of Kochi Biennale Foundation said, “Shubigi Rao is not just an artist; she’s also a theorist and writer. Her range is vast and she has a liberal way of looking at art with commitment as well as research. There is a freshness to her approach, which we all agreed would make her the right person for the job.”

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In an interview with Hindustan Times about her goals as curator of KMB, Rao commented on the relationship between the artist and the art. She said, “I am invariably appreciative of artists who are sensitive to their material, environment, and realities, and whose practices maintain artistic integrity, or fidelity, to their stated intentions.”

Shubigi Rao as a writer

Rao’s journey as a writer traces the trajectory from writing under a male pseudonym and her current five-volume series about book destruction in history. Earlier she constructed her identity as a protégé of an unknown Singapore-based scientist, theorist and polymath S. Raoul and co-authored several projects with that name. However, in 2013 she released a biography along with an art exhibition of S. Raoul’s works after his sudden demise in 2010. In the biography, “I killed him because I was fed up of him.”  It was then that she “killed” S. Raoul and started writing in her original identity.

Her books reflect her interest in history, language and library. Presently, she is engaged with her new book Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book a decade-long book, film and visual art that chronicles the history of book destruction.

Shubigi as a mother and her idea of gender

While a remarkable artist, Rao is also a feminist and a progressive mother. According to The Week, Shubigi spoke about the major reason behind using S. Raoul as her male pseudonym. She said, “As a woman, I would always be that female artist talking about feminism. The content of my work would never be critiqued. The pseudonym helped me be myself and became a very interesting outlet for me.” Besides, she also said that the task of using the male pseudonym was not an act of rejecting womanhood but a feminist action. “It was an experiment because there are a lot of women whose work is discredited just because of their gender. So, I was trying to gather proof and I did.” She further added, “If you call artists a genius, you have just called them a testicle (gignere, the Latin root word of genius, is also a root word for genital). The egg has no meaning. It is only the sperm. Even the language we use casually today have very gendered histories. So I wanted to remove that whole idea.”

She has been selected as the curator of the fifth edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale commencing from December 12, 2020.

Shubigi as a mother

Rao lives in Singapore with her husband Samir Sahay and a six-year-old son. As a mother, she believes that progressive behaviour should start at home. She never controls the choices of her son and allows him to express his emotions and ideas freely. According to The Week, she believes that men should be encouraged to express their emotions or cry when they want to. They should not be forced to remain tough as it distances them from who they really are.

Shubigi Rao’s exceptional work and honours

Out of Rao’s multitude works, some of her renowned exhibitions are The Wood for the Trees (2018), Written in the Margins (2017), The Retrospectacle of S. Raoul (2013), and Useful Fictions (2013). Written in the Margins was the winner of the Juror’s Choice Award, APB Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018. Apart from the fifth edition of KMB, she has also been selected for residency programmes in Singapore, Germany and India. She was the part of 2016 Taipei Biennale, 2017 Pune Biennale and 2008 Singapore Biennale.

Picture Credit: Kochi-Muziris Biennale

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Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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