SUBODH GUPTA by Peter Nagy
Raised in the northern province of Bihar (India's poorest and most violent) Subodh Gupta spent his formative years traveling with a Hindi language theatre group, working as a set designer and fabricator as well as an actor. This involvement on both the public stage and behind the scenes is reflected in his art today, where the production runs across the complete gamut of mediums, from sculpture and painting to installation, photography, video and performance works. Sculptor may be his most appropriate title as Gupta's process is always keenly aware of the physical presence of objects, the aesthetic and symbolic attributes of materials, and the relationships between space, bodies and the passage of time.
A penchant to exploit the cliches of India has become the sculptor's signature. Subodh Gupta locks onto these cliches and examines them from a number of angels: the sacred cow and its dung which is used for cooking fuel, medicines and religious rituals; stainless steel kitchen articles and country-made firearms; an over-stuffed kitsch-Baroque armchair or a scooter slung with milk pails; the image of the Indian worker in transit encumbered with commodities.
In the past ten years, within the context of the contemporary art scene of India itself, Gupta has gradually moved towards a more encompassing attitude of art, one which focuses on specific images and issues that subsequently dictate the mediums in which they can be articulated. To be sure, certain motifs are often found repeated in different works as Gupta's concerns hover close to home even though his formal rhetoric may seem to be imported. It is the diversity of his production which is most impressive. He is almost completely alone among his generation within India to completely disregard disciplinary boundaries or the inhibiting strictures of the marketplace.
To the question of how "Indian" does an Indian contemporary art need to be? Subodh Gupta cleverly supplies multiple answers, delivering works which participate in the most au-courant dialogues of forms and materials (just what "contemporary art" is supposed to look like in New York or London) while hardly venturing out of his apartment in New Delhi. With both style and wit, he distills the global from the local, concocting delectable stews that have a depth of meaning so as to satisfy over time.