Artist Valay Shende’s work Transit was cleared for a run at India Highway, the prestigious travelling art show, in 2010, even before it was complete. Made out of thousands of tiny metal discs, the life-size truck sculpture has been on the move for the past four years, making pit stops at galleries in Lyon and Rome. As part of the show, the piece was showcased alongside works by Subodh Gupta, MF Husain, Dayanita Singh, among others.
After four years of the piece being crafted at Shende’s workshop in Marol, the sculpture has been finally exhibited in Mumbai at Bhau Daji Lad Museum (BDLM), since January 9. “Migrating Histories of Molecular Identities” is a collection of six pieces by Shende that question society and its class systems that are based on caste and the economic divide. “We’ve been a nation of ghulams, and a lot of those traits have been inherited by us. The only difference is that now, the politicians rule us.” says Shende, who hails from Nagpur.
Like most of his work, the five pieces on show at BDLM are hard-hitting, with politics laid bare. In Transit, Shende’s truck has 22 life-size people made out of the metal discs standing in it, with pictures of farmers who committed suicide from Vidharba and their families printed on the metal discs. In addition to this, the rear view mirrors have videos of cityscapes he shot in London, Mumbai and Dubai. “It gives a feeling that the truck is moving, but the people are actually not going anywhere, just like in real life,” says Shende, who worked for over a year-and-a-half on the piece.
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Another piece, Shetkari Atmahatya Narsinglu Rukmawar Vidarbha, is an ornate table with equally grand chairs that look like they have been sculpted in gold. A pepper and salt shaker pair is placed in the centre of the piece, on a silver plate. The pepper shaker contains soil from Vidharba, while the salt contains the cremated ashes of Narsinglu Rukmawar, a farmer who committed suicide due to drought conditions in the north Maharashtra district. “These aren’t suicides, it is murder. Everyone knows what is happening in Vidarbha, but there aren’t any concrete steps being taken to improve the lives of farmers,” says Shende.
The others include a bull head placed like a trophy animal (a comment on how agriculture has become ornamental for the nation) and a kerosene barrel on a tricycle, a reflection of his own childhood where he spent hours in government ration lines. Shende is now off to London for his latest solo, which opens in March. Hopefully, a few of his new pieces will make a stop in Mumbai.