Artist Shilpa Gupta arranges an array of objects wrapped in coarse textured fabric. They have all been confiscated from the hand luggage of passengers at the Mumbai airport. It is not difficult to make out the contours of the tubes of cream, lipstick and inhalers. This is her take on how militarism and terrorism are swamping our lives. Like her, a whole generation of young artists is questioning the material they use to express themselves.
Paintings and sculptures are no longer seen as merely aesthetic objects to decorate interiors or proclaim status. Artists are now taking a close look at their own role in society, and at the nature of the concepts they deal with and the new narratives that spring from it.
Shilpa Gupta’s comments on terrorism
An exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi, Objects: Making/Unmaking, is showcasing some of these provocative experimental works. The exhibition features 13 artists from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The artists, whose works are bound to needle viewers into thinking are Subodh Gupta, Shilpa Gupta, Sumedh Rajendran, Sharmila Samant, Mithu Sen, Kausik Mukhopadhyay, Arun Kumar H.G., Tushar Joag, George Martin, Sudarshan Shetty, Biju Joze, Aparna Rao and Kiran Subbaiah. They have worked with a variety of metals, material, photographs and sundry objects.
Says Rajeev Lochan, the director of the National Gallery of Modern Art: “Such experiments are welcome. They are an essential and integral part of the process of working out new concepts.”
Art historian and curator Yashodhara Dalmia is impressed with the reuse of waste material in the show. “These young artists have shown a great deal of imagination. The way they have transformed our way of looking at mundane, everyday objects is worth noting. Besides, it is also interesting how they are underscoring the physicality and presence of the material,” she says.
A number of works deal with disparate identities. Subodh Gupta’s luggage trolleys with pieces of luggage act as metaphors of journeys, of successful arrivals and painful dislocations and departures. Gupta had once said that he came from the Hindi heartland and his works reflect that identity. By endowing his objects with a glitzy appearance, he suggests an enhanced value to the works that act as symbols of an ordinary existence.
Similarly, Arun Kumar H.G., who designs toys for a large export house and comes originally from a farming background, makes his objects engage in a dialogue that reflects the multiple identities that he experiences.
His objects are placed on two pedestals. One set of abstract forms is made with shiny golden brass and the other, consisting of artisanal and farming tools, is of black iron. He thus questions the hierarchies associated with materials.
Mithu Sen, in her installation, Indubala and Her (Un)belongings, has assembled a variety of objects and images that mocks at her own notions of self-identity. Sen also brings into play the nostalgia, pain and sweetness that make up memories.
Apart from Gupta’s works, there are other references to the paranoia that terrorism generates. Kausik Mukhopadhyay has fabricated an armoured tank from cycle parts and metal plates that run on two motors. It can be operated by the viewer, but suddenly another system comes into play and the war machine takes on a life of its own.
Sumedh Rajendran works with industrial material that refers to our urban context. Here, he has parked a dog made of steel sheet against a wall. The object is laced with fantasy. Like him, Tushar Joag, Aparna Rao, George Martin, Biju Joze and Kiran Subbaiah, too, raise questions about the functions of objects we run into in our everyday lives.
Objects: Making/Unmaking, till 12 May at Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi
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