Sheela Gowda's installation for Artes Mundi in the National museum, Wales. Tom Martin/ Wales News Service
Sheela Gowda's installation for Artes Mundi in the National museum, Wales. Tom Martin/ Wales News Service

Indian artist is among favourites for prestigious Artes Mundi prize

Artes Mundi, one of the most lucrative art prizes in the world, opened in Wales last week and one of the favourites is an Indian artist who uses tar drums in her work.

Walk through the Doric columns that dominate the facade of Cardiff’s imposing National Museum and the first exhibition space reveals a strangely comical symmetry. Four cylindrical tar drums sourced from Indian road workers stand atop each other, echoing the stone structures outside. But they are far less permanent – or sturdy. A gallery assistant looks at them and shakes her head with a grin: they’re petrified someone will lean against this temporary column and the whole thing will come crashing down, the drums rolling out the entrance.

But then, the Indian artist responsible for this thought-provoking installation probably wouldn't mind one bit. Sheela Gowda's sculpture, Kagebangara, is meant to be abstract. Other drums snake along the ground. Flattened barrels are hung flat along the wall next to bright yellow and blue tarpaulin, instantly inviting comparisons with Mondrian's famous grid-based paintings. The only concession to realism comes with a small compartment constructed of more flattened drums – suggesting connections with the simple dwellings the road workers shelter in.

“It’s strange,” says Gowda, from Bangalore. “When I looked at the homes of street builders, these mobile shelters made from flattened tar drums, I was very conscious of not wanting to make a superficial social comment about these workers. And yet that’s the first thing viewers jump at. They think that the use of ‘poor’ material, especially coming from the Third World, is a comment on the marginalised.

“Actually, I was fascinated by the use of materials they work with daily in the construction of their homes – it’s the dimensions of the tar drum sheets that determined the size of these small shelters, not the human body scale and its needs. So I wanted to see what I could create using these same materials and restrictions.”

Kagebangara is one of the stand-out works at Artes Mundi, an art prize that doesn't quite have the profile of the Turner Prize, but is possibly more significant. Financially, the rewards for winning are certainly greater (about Dh235,000), and entry is not limited to British artists. The seven finalists this year come from Sweden, Cuba, Slovenia, Lithuania, Mexico, the UK and, of course, India.

“It’s important for me because it’s meant that I can converse with and exhibit alongside artists who are both mature and different in the way they engage with the world,” says Gowda.

And Gowda's engagement with the art world has certainly taken her in interesting directions. She started out as a painter, training at the Royal College of Art in London, but in the early 1990s began to investigate using completely different materials; incense sticks, cow dung, spice and even human hair have all featured in installations for art biennales at Lyons and Venice, and solo exhibitions in London, Oslo, New York and Bangalore. In 2009, the Sharjah Biennial welcomed two of her contributions, including the mesmerising Drip Field, where her stretch of water, in between two buildings, was inspired by the emirate's special link to India past and present.

Despite regular assertions that her work has a consistent political dimension, if only because it uses unconventional materials loaded with meaning, it's a categorisation she resists.

“Honestly, I don’t make comments on India,” she argues. “I’m not trying to change the world through my work – although of course, it does keep my engagement with it alive. I work in India so naturally I take up materials and imagery that are around me. But it is always used towards a larger reading.”

What that larger reading is, Gowda will not say and she is clear that she is an artist first and foremost. But it is a triumph of her work, in a way, that it can be so readily and widely interpreted – even if she herself doesn’t necessarily agree with the viewer.

On Thursday, she will find out whether the assembled judges’ interpretations – whatever they might be – are enough to win her the Artes Mundi prize. Let’s hope the tar drum columns stay upright until then, at least.

The contenders

The other six competitors for Artes Mundi in Cardiff

Miriam Backstrom (Sweden)

A huge tapestry hung in an arc, the fragmented scene is a comment on public and private faces.

Tania Bruguera (Cuba)

Simultaneously the most intriguing and frustrating work, Bruguera investigates the lot of the immigrant... but not in the gallery. It’s a poster campaign across Cardiff.

Darius Miksys (Lithuania)

Miksys deconstructed an essay on his work into search terms and then looked for those items in the National Museum Wales collection. The result is a room that has a stuffed bird, ornate painting... and a ticket for the cricket.

Teresa Margolles (Mexico)

A powerful exploration of death; water used to cleanse dead bodies in a morgue drips from the ceiling on to hotplates, which then evaporate with a hiss.

Phil Collins

(United Kingdom)

A slide show of anonymous holiday snaps, pets and private moments, inviting the viewer to construct narratives of unknown lives.

Apolonija Sustersic (Slovenia)

The crowd-pleasing entry; a video installation looking at the past, present and future of the Cardiff Bay redevelopment.

Artes Mundi is at National Museum Cardiff until January 13. Visit

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How Tesla’s price correction has hit fund managers

Investing in disruptive technology can be a bumpy ride, as investors in Tesla were reminded on Friday, when its stock dropped 7.5 per cent in early trading to $575.

It recovered slightly but still ended the week 15 per cent lower and is down a third from its all-time high of $883 on January 26. The electric car maker’s market cap fell from $834 billion to about $567bn in that time, a drop of an astonishing $267bn, and a blow for those who bought Tesla stock late.

The collapse also hit fund managers that have gone big on Tesla, notably the UK-based Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust and Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF.

Tesla is the top holding in both funds, making up a hefty 10 per cent of total assets under management. Both funds have fallen by a quarter in the past month.

Matt Weller, global head of market research at GAIN Capital, recently warned that Tesla founder Elon Musk had “flown a bit too close to the sun”, after getting carried away by investing $1.5bn of the company’s money in Bitcoin.

He also predicted Tesla’s sales could struggle as traditional auto manufacturers ramp up electric car production, destroying its first mover advantage.

AJ Bell’s Russ Mould warns that many investors buy tech stocks when earnings forecasts are rising, almost regardless of valuation. “When it works, it really works. But when it goes wrong, elevated valuations leave little or no downside protection.”

A Tesla correction was probably baked in after last year’s astonishing share price surge, and many investors will see this as an opportunity to load up at a reduced price.

Dramatic swings are to be expected when investing in disruptive technology, as Ms Wood at ARK makes clear.

Every week, she sends subscribers a commentary listing “stocks in our strategies that have appreciated or dropped more than 15 per cent in a day” during the week.

Her latest commentary, issued on Friday, showed seven stocks displaying extreme volatility, led by ExOne, a leader in binder jetting 3D printing technology. It jumped 24 per cent, boosted by news that fellow 3D printing specialist Stratasys had beaten fourth-quarter revenues and earnings expectations, seen as good news for the sector.

By contrast, computational drug and material discovery company Schrödinger fell 27 per cent after quarterly and full-year results showed its core software sales and drug development pipeline slowing.

Despite that setback, Ms Wood remains positive, arguing that its “medicinal chemistry platform offers a powerful and unique view into chemical space”.

In her weekly video view, she remains bullish, stating that: “We are on the right side of change, and disruptive innovation is going to deliver exponential growth trajectories for many of our companies, in fact, most of them.”

Ms Wood remains committed to Tesla as she expects global electric car sales to compound at an average annual rate of 82 per cent for the next five years.

She said these are so “enormous that some people find them unbelievable”, and argues that this scepticism, especially among institutional investors, “festers” and creates a great opportunity for ARK.

Only you can decide whether you are a believer or a festering sceptic. If it’s the former, then buckle up.


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