Squire Foundation Artist in Residence Manjari Sharma

By Joanne A Calitri   |   March 28, 2019
Portrait of a man in the shower by Manjari Sharama

The Morris Squire Foundation (MSF) Santa Barbara exhibit opening for their spring artist in residence, Manjari Sharma, was held Thursday, March 21, at their Via Maria Villa location. The artist presented her current project, The Shower Series, with prints, an interactive video installation, and book release. Ashley Hollister, Executive Director of MSF, says, “The Squire Foundation is very proud to present Manjari to the Santa Barbara community as our Spring 2019 Artist in Residence. Her work transcends traditional portrait photography in her bi-coastal Shower Series, interviewing the subjects while photographing them taking a shower.”

The artist Manjari Sharma

Fascination with our human form cannot be denied throughout history. David Hockney, who took the famous photo “Man in Shower in Beverly Hills” in 1964, said it well, “For an artist the interest of showers is obvious: the whole body is always in view and in movement, usually gracefully, as the bather is caressing his own body.”

In photography, there are the incomparable black and white film portraits by Herb Ritts titled the Waterfall series Hollywood 1988, Helmut Newton’s “Volontaires de la Douleur” 1974 on auction at Christie’s, and Ellen von Unwerth’s portraits of Naomi Campbell New York in 1994 and Rihanna in2014, and note the paintings of George Seurat “Bathers at Asieneres”1884 and Henri Matisse “Bathers by a River”1909-1917.I recently spoke with Manjari about her shower portraits.

Q. Why art for you and what inspires you to do art?

A. Annie Dillard said, “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” These words truly resonate with me. Creating art allows me to share what moves me. It depends on the day but there so much to be inspired by, nothing can inspire more than making art itself. To find yourself in the midst of the process, to have that familiar joy that can only come from making work, might be the greatest inspiration for me. I grew up in Mumbai, India and that is a city of great chaos and great beauty. I enjoy that duality. Brooklyn, NY for that very same reason holds a very dear place for me.

Art education and medium?

I have a BA in Visual Communications from Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University Juhu, Mumbai, India and a BFA in Media Studies, Still Photography from Columbus College of Art and Design, Ohio. I am a photo-based artist.

Talk briefly about your work.

I make work that is rooted in portraiture addressing the issues of identity, multiculturalism and personal mythology. I usually start with a question and to find the answers for it my camera comes along for the ride. On this investigative journey, I feel my camera brings me agency to stare, to request participation, to create, compose or capture. While I am a portraitist and many of my works and series are people oriented, I am also a collaborator at heart. Whether it be a simple homegrown project that starts in my backyard, a constructed set where a big crew of craftsmen come together or a museum commission, I find that my process always grows and is made richer by my collaborators. Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) commissioned me for a five-month art project titled, Talking Pictures, I choose an artist to collaborate with and have a wordless photographic dialogue with them. We were expected to exchange caption-less images in a call and response manner, the subject matter and frequency would entirely be up to us. It was one of the most thrilling projects I have executed, selected pieces from that dialogue are on my website.

Current project that brought you to Squire Foundation Residency?

I feel lucky to have been invited to continue creating work for a series I had pressed pause on a few years ago. It is titled The Shower Series and the project started in Brooklyn in 2009. For the last few years I have been inviting people to visit my apartment and allow me to photograph them in a very intimate space, my bathroom. I have also been inviting them to take a shower as I continue to photograph them. I soon came to the observation that warm water running over my subjects’ bodies relieved them of any unnerving awkwardness the camera brought about. Once they were relaxed, the bathroom turned into a confessional. Many of my subjects shared intimate details of their life with me and with every new person came a brand new allegory. With every new visit, I had a new protagonist, a new plot and a new parable of hurt and heroic that came undone, an independent study that has given rise to some of the fastest, most disarming relationships I have formed. Secretly, I have been told by my subjects that it is thrilling and adventuresome to be in my shower. Cheating my traditional and tame Indian upbringing, I live through all of my subjects fighting their wars and braving their fears for those few hours where we are connected through this pious space. The original body of work comes in 2 sizes 20×30 and 16×22. I have about 25 pieces in the series and it debuted at ClampArt Gallery NYC 2013. It has been shown at Paul Kopeikin’s Gallery LA and Richard Levy Gallery New Mexico.

Is this SB-based shower work similar to the Brooklyn Shower Series? 

As a transplant to NYC in 2009, the shower series became a really incredible portal of investigation that lead to a series that lasted four years. The entire series was photographed in a tiny bathroom in Brooklyn that had a small, yet important window. This window let in some beautiful light and that light paved the way to my inspiration. This series brought me some critical nods and some early recognition, however the lease on my apartment was up and I pressed pause on creating any more shower work. I explored other ideas conceptually and created other bodies work all while secretly waiting for a perfect storm that would allow me to reopen this body work at some point. That perfect storm came wearing the name of The Squire Foundation. Ashley Hollister invited me to utilize Squire’s beautiful residency space and create more work on the shower series and that brings me to the scope of this project. Unlike Brooklyn, the space that this residency has provided for me is physically massive. In addition to the sheer volume in this house, the residency space is generously peppered with various bodies of water. There are two showers, a pool, and a bathtub bookended with giant sun lit foyers that provide open and contemplative areas to undress, dress, and dry. The theme of the shower series has always been reflection, vulnerability, and connection, and the shower as a space allows for most subjects to come undone, not just physically but also emotionally. As I have actively spent time in this house, I have expanded the scope of this series to photographing and capturing the human figure before, during, and after the shower. The series will have some familiar traditional portraits, but it will also have bodies suspended, submerged, wading, and waiting to dry. Besides creating video and photographs of my subjects going through the motions, I am also recording their thoughts and our intimate conversations on audio. This audio will become an integral part of the complete installation for this series debuting on March 21st. I aim for the end result to mimic for our audience the experience of being in a fish bowl, surrounded by water and experiences of people in that water. Water is essential to the human experience, it’s essential to the fabric of our being and it’s essential to Santa Barbara. The audio you will hear and artwork you see will be reflective of a diverse group of opinionated locals, but the one thing that binds them all… that in truth binds us all, is water. I would love for the series to travel as an exhibition, find new audience and my desire to see a monograph of this work. 

Any other art you are working on?

Yes, I am working on two different series, both will continue in India when I travel there in March. One is titled “How to wear a Saree” – the process of the making of a saree and the other is Loss and Resurrection, a documentation of my family as they bravely battle my mother’s exceptionally early onset of dementia.

411: The Squire Foundation, www.thesquirefoundation.org


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