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The sweet face of exploitation

The sweet face of exploitation
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First Published: Wed, Oct 08 2008. 06 14 AM IST

Ved Gupta with Catharsis, a series of bronze scultpures.
Ved Gupta with Catharsis, a series of bronze scultpures.
Updated: Mon, Oct 13 2008. 11 26 AM IST
Tubby men—fat, short and bald—are a recurring figure in the fibreglass sculptures and paintings on display in Ved Gupta’s first solo show. On the opening evening, the artist himself seemed keener to talk about his new bronze sculptures, but these rotund figures were clearly the show’s highlight.
Ved Gupta with Catharsis, a series of bronze scultpures.
Especially the cluster at the centre of the hall, titled Motion in Paralysis—sporting jackets and colourful squat ties that look like juicy worms, with their arms folded back, they have an avuncular gaze and a broad smile on their round and chubby identical faces. (The different styles of moustaches and beards they sport, and the odd cap, are the only distinguishing features.) The roly-poly air about them is much enhanced by their hemispherical lower halves, which Gupta has weighted inside with iron balls, so that if one were to push or shove them, they would sway about like “punch me” dolls before coming to a halt still standing.
Motion in Paralysis.
These and other sculptures seem to have walked out of a children’s book, and that is the source of their appeal—we respond to them like a child responds to a doll. Which is perhaps one reason why the labelling of these figures as society’s wealthy oppressors by Gupta seems superfluous. A couple of dwarf figures, with angular features, cunning expressions and neta’s attire, do seem like bad guys and the tall thin bare bodied ones—with what the accompanying literature calls “idealized” figures—are supposed to be innocent initiates being co-opted into the system by the short, bad men; but overall these narratives of capitalist exploitation seem besides the point. For one, images of exploiters don’t usually evoke a feeling of child-like delight.
Similarly, the aesthetic appeal of a painting of a frog in emphatic red and white, titled Untitled Companion, and that of a sculpture where a big frog rests on a man’s shoulders, titled The Man with Untitled Companion II, is hardly enhanced if the frog is seen to stand for a large country to the east of India that is flooding her markets with cheap imports. Whatever the connection, it is too oblique. Gupta’s works pack plenty of punch on their own; they don’t need intellectual props.
Untitled Companion.
The theme of exploitation and mental turmoil finds a somewhat more direct expression in a series of bronze sculptures titled Catharsis. These consist of bronze plates with male faces etched on them, with expressions of anguish and alienation writ large on them—they could belong to both the oppressor and the oppressed. The etchings have been deliberately smudged by selective polishing of the uneven and frequently rough surface, and they are further obscured by the bronze scaffolding—small replicas of the bamboo scaffolding at construction sites—of varying height that have been erected in front them. The scaffoldings remind us of the incessant urban construction and the workers who toil at these sites. As such they are a symbol of exploitation and marginalization of these workers.
The net effect is that the import of these etching seems to have been deliberately obfuscated—it would take some effort on part of the viewer to comprehend what they depict. The strain of this comprehension perhaps mirrors at some level the strain the subjects are obviously under.
Prices for the artworks start from Rs1lakh.
Ved Gupta’s solo show is till 10th October at Gallery Threshold, Lado Sarai, New Delhi. All works can be viewed at www.gallerythreshold.com
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First Published: Wed, Oct 08 2008. 06 14 AM IST