Shilo Suleman: “Reclaiming imagination as a prophecy of what we want”
Shilo Shiv Suleman is an Indian visual artist & activist. Her work and practice encompasses art for social change, technology and magical realism through illustration and urban art.
When I first knew I would have the chance to interview Shilo Suleman I was thrilled. The opportunity came through one of my flatmates, Ann-Chris, who tends to surprise me with her huge network of friends. When she knew I was dreaming about finding women to interview for my project on the days I would be in Glasgow-for COP26, she immediately asked the right person and magic happened. A good friend of hers texted me afterwards, offering to me a really special contact who was perfectly fitting what I was looking for.
I typed the name ‘Shilo Suleman’ into the browser and I felt absolutely impressed when I saw the work of this visual artist. She had a Ted Talk on Using tech to enable dreaming (2011) and a TEDx talk called ‘A woman’s journey to fearlessness’ (2018). Moreover, she was the founder of The Fearless Collective, formed by a wide group of artists around the globe that work with public spaces and participatory art practices in order to encourage a shift from fear to love.
Getting to talk with Shilo when I arrived in Glasgow was not as easy as receiving her contact. When I first saw her, she was on top of a tower crane painting a beautiful big mural, several feet above the ground I was walking on. It felt quite magical seeing her so high, looking confident, happy and focused on her work. A few meters below her, other women were collaborating on that unique art piece, also focused on painting with their brushes. The latter rainy days had been delaying their goals and they could not waste a minute that Sunday, which seemed to be dry enough. I would need to wait for Shilo to be available.
I can only say that waiting in the cold for almost seven hours around Shilo’s mural felt totally worth it since the first minute our conversation started. She has a very engaging speech and a highly powerful way of communicating her ideas.
In this interview, Shilo talks about “the importance of reaffirming love and connection in a moment of tremendous fear”’. This Indian visual artist usually states that beauty saved her- both emotionally and financially- in a moment of her life which was marked by an immense fear, and recalls in this video how her own artistic practice began then. “What begins as catharsis, becomes alchemy or magic”’, Shilo expresses in this line.
She highlights “the practice of making the invisible visible” and she is not afraid to state how “by product of colonisation, we started to look at everything in separation”, pointing out how “masculine and feminine, both exist in our own bodies”, but also a wide spectrum that “chooses no binaries”.
Recognising that “there is no separation” is, to her, “very feminine and very feminist”; she mentions here “the Earth and the divine feminine” in an attempt to point out the importance of folkloric stories on the creation of this planet.
On COP26’ event, -taking place in the very same moment this interview is being recorded-, Shilo considers “decisions are taken from a clinical space and not from a space of reverence”. She compares it with what happens outside the venues, talking about the workshop her collective did meanwhile, and pointing out the problem of “certain communities being normally represented by someone else”.
For Shilo, there is a very obvious link between imagination, fear and social change: “Imagination is the first thing taken away from marginalized communities”. She considers “colonisation as a radical act of imagination”-although a horrible one- and invites people “reclaiming imagination as a prophecy of what we want”.
It’s precisely thanks to the guidance of her imagination that Shilo works daily on “a continuous process of transformation” to become who she wants to be, instead of who she is told to “especially as an Indian woman”, as she points out. Shilo sees how disobedience can be seductive, “not from a place of resistance, but of existence”.
Shilo conceives beauty as a practice and shows herself “very excited about the intersection between feminism, environmentalism, social justice, and spiritual justice”, but also on the practice of paying attention to the cycles of the Earth” . “The Earth needs our attention right now”, concludes in this interview.