June 26, 2021 5:30:42 pm
Well-known for his sculptural work, Subodh Gupta’s creations feature everyday objects like metal plates, bowls, tiffin boxes, milk pails, and other kitchenware. Referred to as the “Damien Hirst of Delhi”, the leading contemporary artist often explores the concept of dislocation through his creations. With his works exhibited across the globe at various exhibitions and fairs, the artist explores myriad mediums — sculpture, video, and even painting.
Along with his wife Bharti Kher, he has now dedicated his practice towards various Covid-19 relief operations across the country. The artists have created “nine signature works that extend their long-standing artistic explorations of found objects and ritual within every day, whilst also speaking to the world of the moment.”
“The artists hope to raise Rs 1 crore towards sustainable long-term aid and will donate 100 per cent sale proceeds to Hemkunt Foundation and Goonj in support of their relief efforts,” an official statement informs.
In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, Subodh Gupta talks about his journey, how art helped him cope amid pandemic, his latest initiative, and much more.
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The pandemic has affected everyone’s life in a huge way. How have you been coping with it?
Last year, the family was in different parts of the world, either in transit or in quarantine. I have been working quietly and steadily in the studio, and to be honest, have made some really ambitious works and many paintings. Making art is a coping mechanism and I always turn back to the studio. The cruel nature of this virus is that when family and friends are sick you can’t see them. Both Bharti and I had Covid at different times and we are lucky that we are ok now, and I feel blessed that I’m back at work and well. I have my doctor to thank.
What led to your Covid-19 fundraiser initiative?
I was sick when half of Delhi was sick. Every system that we relied on seemed to be in a state of collapse. I was quite unwell and in bed most of the time, but Bharti tells me that finding medicines was so hard, hospitals were on their knees, getting a test was impossible. People like us, who are privileged, are fortunate. We know friends in the medical profession and we have access to resources. Imagine what is happening to the rest of India, small towns, villages, and the poor. How and who was going to help them? When we saw the amazing initiatives started by dedicated NGO’s and civilians, we knew that we had to help. We couldn’t physically but we could financially and we wanted to work again, to find positivity in the sea of doom news feeds.
Can you take us through your works — A Bouquet of Flowers and My Village 1 and 2 — explaining the relevance and inspiration?
The new paintings I made are a continuation of a series of works I started last year. A departure of sorts from the more formal painting style of past works. The still life has been simplified and I am making marks as raw drawing. Titled My Village, they both are celebratory and melancholic, reminding me of the smells of my mother’s kitchen at home. The still life is something that I return to time and time again. The significance of food, sharing, eating, and community is such a huge part of my language. I love cooking for people, like my mother. In my home, the kitchen is always alive!
The sculptures are really part of my signature works in stainless steel. A Bouquet of Flowers is a gift of empathy and an offering of peace to Covid and Langar – The Tiffin Box, with spilling utensils, is a homage to the spirit of feeding and welfare that the Sikh community in India have continued as part of their faith of inclusivity and humanitarian aid. They continue to be exemplary.
You have often explored the effects of cultural translation and dislocation through your works — something that happened amid the pandemic. How have you highlighted these aspects through your latest works?
This pandemic has on the one hand shown us that we are one world, and all of us have been affected. Yet there is a huge disparity in how we have access to fighting it and we have seen how different countries have handled the crisis. Dislocation is a kind of break from home, that is forced. It’s about migration and the city. It’s how one also came from a small town to the city and never really went back. I made works about my village because when we are in crisis we remember home and the people we were. To go home is to find safety when there is danger. How many people walked home last year to their villages thousands of kilometers on cycles and by foot! It is our collective shame as a nation.
How, and in what ways, has the pandemic affected your works, and you as an artist?
Artists are used to being alone. It’s how we think and create and change. The pandemic was very sad as well, and I see that the struggle is still not over. We are all deeply impacted but as adults, we can cope. I worry more for the kids who haven’t been at school for a year or met their peers, played and been children. They have had to protect their parents from Covid and the long-term effects will only be seen later.
The art world has been deeply impacted by the pandemic, with many shows and fairs going virtual. What is your take on virtual shows when the idea behind art is to engage with it and experience it from close?
Nothing like experiencing art. People can say whatever they want about virtual connectivity and access. But the physicality of art is everything. The experience of walking around a work (is unmatched).
What do you anticipate as the new normal in the art world?
Fewer fairs, more local art interactions, less money for small spaces and independent players. I don’t really know, to be honest. None of us does.
An artist needs ideas and inspirations to work with. Have the lockdowns proved to be fruitful for you as an artist?
Most ideas generate new ideas, and work inspires work. The lockdown has been both good and bad. I have made a lot of work but I also miss my kids, friends and family. What better way to end a day than with whiskey and dinner with friends.
Art can play a huge role in bringing about a change in society. Do you agree?
I wish in India we would have more space for culture. We have a 5000-year-old civilisation full of arts and excellence. To move into the next phase, we have to share access to museums, educations, art schools, history. Public spaces have to owned by the public so they feel proud of their cities and enjoy the beauty within them. Design, architecture, art all can transform cities but someone has to want to implement this. But even when there is no language, there is art.
The sale can be viewed on http://www.pledgebybhartiandsubodh.com
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