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The fragility of fences

Award-winning artist Shilpa Gupta talks to Moeena Halim about her politically-inclined art and love for unique visual metaphor

Mumbai-based artist Shilpa Gupta’s sculpture titled 1:14.9, which was made using more than 79 miles of thread as a comment on the Indo-Pak fenced border, is being showcased at Singapore’s Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) as part of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative’s No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia. Excerpts from an interview with the artist:

Shilpa Gupta
Shilpa Gupta

Q. From terrorism to communal diversity and the fragility of national borders — a lot of your work is tinged with politics. Has this been intentional or instinctual?
A. I’m driven by instinct. It’s impossible to not think about definitions when you grow up in a city called Bombay which is renamed Mumbai, walk into a classroom every day to see a chair empty — as the person, who once sat on it, has gone missing in riots, and you are told it had nothing to do with religion but something personal. It’s the same when you hear different versions of what the state means to those who live in border areas, or are woken up from sleep in Mumbai by the sound of a Srinagar blast. I live on a street with two names and if you ask me for directions, it’s mostly likely that the older name — Turner Road — will get you a quicker response than the new name, Guru Nanak Road. Making objects or creating experiences is only a way to deal with one’s own spaces.

Shilpa Gupta's her art installation at Carter Road
Shilpa Gupta's her art installation at Carter Road

Q. Do you think it is an artist’s role in society to comment on the socio-political scenario?
A. No, I don’t think so. I feel there is no ‘one role’ for anyone to play, not for artists, writers, or even scientists. There can be an artist who makes great abstract works, such as Mark Rothko, VS Gaitonde or Prabhakar Barwe, or those who do great figurative works such as Sudhir Patwardhan, Anju Dodiya or Gieve Patel — they may or may not be political, or be political in different ways. Art can be created by someone who does installation works or by a housewife who enjoys her afternoon daily sessions.

Q. What was the trigger for you to create a visual metaphor commenting on the Indo-Pak border?
A. What caught my eye was the satellite image of the fence that can be seen from the sky at night. It stayed with me for a long time and perhaps that’s what the work might be connected to. I chose thread because it is a basic thing that we use and see in our everyday world. I was drawn towards the simplicity of the colour white. smdmail@mid-day.com

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