Kabir, and the cosmos
Subodh Gupta, one of India’s leading contemporary artists returns to Mumbai after ten years with a solo show and is ready to revise his style
The first of a set of four triptychs, titled 'In this vessel lies the seven seas; in it too, the nine hundred thousand stars' - drawn from Kabir's verses - in which Gupta seeks out the cosmos in frying pans
If you are used to Subodh Gupta’s maximalism – his populous steel pots and pans, his aesthetic of metallic excess – then his upcoming show in the city could come as a surprise. Opening tomorrow at Mahalaxmi’s go-to film production space, Famous Studios, Anahad/Unstruck, presented by New Delhi's Nature Morte gallery, is a blend of two Guptas – the one that continues to be rooted in the nation’s socio-economic upheavals and the other that now wants to wilfully free fall in deep space.
"Can you find the cosmos in a frying pan?" asks Subodh Gupta, when we meet him at Famous Studios. It sounds atrocious – that a grimy tava with oil residue clinging to its base could evoke a question like this. "But, why not?" challenges the 52-year-old artist, quoting from the 15th century mystic, Kabir. "Kabir talks about the body as a vessel and how the entire universe resides in the vessel. It also draws the connection between food and the cosmos [anna he purna bhrama]," he explains.
Subodh Gupta with his sculpture which uses compressed found objects and scrap cloth. Titled 'Aakaash, Paataal, Dharti (Space, Depth, Surface)', the 3.5 tonnes cube will see performers interacting with it during the opening and on select days through the show. Pics/Satej Shinde
The show’s title draws from these very verses that Gupta has recalled; anahad is a primordial sound that can be translated as "unstruck sound" and is described variously across the religions of the subcontinent as "the sound of one hand clapping" or "the sound of silence". Each of the five works in the exhibition, therefore, toy with the ideas of sound, meditation and breath. Krodh (Rage), for instance, is a kinetic sculpture comprising a 100 kg antique pot sourced from Kerala and an electromagnet. The magnet inaudibly ascends with a heavy chain that it pulls out of the pot, only to let it drop from the high ceiling of the studio. As the chain falls back into the pot with a resounding thud, it’s almost as if the act of breathing has been given a metallic avatar. Other works, such as Birth of A Star (in which an arc of light fuses two colossal stainless steel handis – a very Gupta motif that, and Anahad, a set of reverberating steel plates, also reflect the theme.
However, a set of four triptychs in the show marks the return of Gupta, the painter, to the city where his last solo show happened in 2006-07 at Bodhi Art Gallery. "I was trained in painting in my college days and have been painting through my career, every week almost," he says. While Gupta has shot to fame in astronomical proportions (as also the prices his works quote) with his sculptures, Anahad/Unstruck showcases Gupta’s oil on aluminium paintings. At his irreverent best, these paintings draw attention to the undersides and tops of frying pans to reveal great beauty in them.
Titled "In this vessel lies the seven seas; in it too, the nine hundred thousand stars" – again drawing from Kabir – this is where the painterly and the poetic meet the industrial and the mundane – something that Gupta pulls off with ease. "This is definitely a new me and a change from my previous vocabulary. I want to break away from the nostalgia that I have been associated with. As an artist, I have to resolve and refine myself," says Gupta.
ON: December 9-31
AT: Studio No 1, Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi
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