One of the biggest names in contemporary art, Subodh Gupta has brought global recognition to Indian kitchen utensils. His six-metre-high stainless steel bucket now stands at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, overflowing with hundreds of pots, pans, containers and cooking implements. Back in India after installing it last week, Gupta is already on to his next project, a solo at Hauser & Wirth in the UK in February 2016, where he intends to paint the universe inside the utensils.
Your striking new work When Soak Becomes Spill is part of the India festival at V&A. Is it a comment on the wastage of world’s natural resources, with utensils spilling out?
It is a metaphor used to explain my own dilemmas when I was growing up and realised that I wanted to become an artist. The rituals, mythology and spiritual beliefs I grew up with came back to me. I wanted to express them. It was like ‘oh-my-god, something interesting from my childhood is reappearing’; it was spilling out. It is also a symbol of prosperity of India, from an empty vessel to a fuller one.
You come from Bihar. Are you following the state elections?
I am. It is a very tight fight. I will not say who I am supporting but things have been changing the past few years, at least in the art and culture of the state, with a new world-class museum coming up.
Designed by Japanese firm Maki and Associates, it is an extraordinary museum. India did not have a contemporary art museum until recently. We look at Bihar
as a poor state, like we look at India from outside. But the state boasts of a rich history — the enlightened Buddha, the Ashoka Chakra…
You also have a 26-ft stainless steel cactus in Bihar, celebrating Bihar’s 100 years in 2012.
I was invited to make that and was very happy I could do something. It is actually my first public artwork of such a scale in India.
Some years ago, you backed an exhibition of young artists from Bihar. Do you still go back home and look out for them?
It’s not specific to Bihar. I am willing to support any young talented artist who has potential. There is nothing much happening in the art school in Patna, so I don’t really go back there. But I’d be happy if things happen and good artists emerge from there.
What do you think about protests against Anish Kapoor’s Dirty Corner at the Palace of Versailles earlier this year?
I have great respect for him and am proud that he is from India. He is a world-class artist. Different people react to an artwork differently, some like it, others don’t. It is okay as long as an artwork is not damaged.
Founders of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale — Riyaz Komu and Bose Krishnamachari — have featured in this year’s ArtReview list of 100 most influential people in contemporary art. What are your impressions of the Biennale? Do you see yourself curating it?
I really appreciate and salute what they have done for Indian art through the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. It is a huge thing for India and a great opportunity to see the work of Indian and international artists. I don’t think I am fit to curate it; I am not good at that.
Do you ever regret saying no to Husain when he asked you to assist him?
Not at all. I said no because if I had said yes, there was a chance I would have just ended up copying the style of the masters. It would not have been my art. I had to develop a language of my own. Husain saab, too, was happy, he patted my back, gave me ashirwad.
How is it to be compared with the likes of Damien Hirst and Marcel Duchamp?
I don’t compare, people do. In my head, I am Subodh Gupta.
Several artists, including you, have recently raised concerns over ‘growing interference in art and culture’. You have backed authors who have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards.
I have already given my statement regarding this issue and I think the message is gone. (Subodh Gupta was one of the 400 signatories supporting the statement issued by Delhi-based arts organisation SAHMAT, who expressed solidarity with the writers who relinquished their Sahitya Akademi awards).
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