I WORK WITH MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES. TODAY, WHEN I USE STAINLESS STEEL UTENSILS IN MY WORK, PEOPLE SAY I'M TAKING ADVANTAGE OF A BIHARI SCENARIO. IT'S A SOURCE OF LAUGHTER FOR ME. I AM MAKING ART, NOT BRANDING INDIA. I MAKE VERY CONTEMPORARY ARTWORKS. MY WORK EMERGES FROM THE MUNDANE, FROM MY SURROUNDINGS.
-Subodh Gupta, Artist Statement, Anupa Mehta, India 20: Conversations with Contemporary Artists, Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2007, p.180
Subodh Gupta documents the daily life of the bazaars with his quasi-photo realistic rendition of a vessel stall, recasting an ensemble of traditional objects of Indian culture. Familiar to both the rural and urban societies of India, these shining steel containers are a ubiquitous element in the trousseau of newly married women and a staple of many Indian homes.
Using these icons of Indian culture, Gupta reveals the innate dichotomies of traditional and modern, rural and urban, wealthy and the impoverished. With his uncanny ability to identify these icons the artist addresses the existing social ills of discrimination, religious tensions, industrialisation and globalisation. In his paintings, sculptures, as well as installations, Gupta employs these stainless steel implements as a kind of Duchampian style ready-made, piling
them into the shape of temples, hanging them precariously from the ceiling and, in the spirit of Claes Oldenburg, magnifying a single pail to mammoth proportions.
Mesmerised by the sheen of these quotidian vessels in Gupta's painting one cannot help but be reminded of the vanitas commonly executed by Northern European painters in Flanders and the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The utensils represented in these paintings (figure 1, Still Life of Kitchen Utensils, Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff) were a celebration of the commerce and the prosperity of their time, while also commenting on the transient nature of vanity. The chaotic eruption of vessels in Gupta's works may also be compared to the artful disorganization that prevailed in paintings by Pieter Aertsen in Flanders and Passarotti in Italy where the point of interest in the market scenes was the mountains of food and utensils piled in the foreground. Gupta's painting of this utensil store with the storekeeper bending over in the background is the contemporary rendition of a similar genre. However, the polemics of the "emptiness" within the riches of vessels in the Northern European paintings is an interesting point of departure for Gupta. His deceptively simple-looking works garbed in the high-gloss sheen of the familiar, homely, stainless steel forms, are a commentary on contemporary India, transitions, and the inherent contradictions of globalization.