The bicycle is like a mechanized cow in the city [...] In the country if I wanted milk, I would go to the cows to get it; in the city it is delivered to you by bicycle. (Artist statement, S. Gupta & P.Holmes, 'Subodh Gupta: Cow Dung, Curry Pots, and a Hungry God', ARTnews online, September 2007, www.artnews.com/issues/article.asp?art_id=2325)
In this work Subodh Gupta combines two utilitarian objects typical to everyday Indian life - the milk pail and the bicycle. Familiar to both the rural and urban echelons of Indian society, these stainless steel containers and the simple bicycle are ubiquitous objects. Filtering through his cache of symbols, the steel vessels epitomize Gupta's ability to find tension and irony in the mundane. The artist has an uncanny ability to identify those commonplaces of Indian culture that possess innate dichotomies suggesting both the traditional and modern, the rural and urban, the wealthy and the impoverished. In Gupta's hands these become comments on the larger social ills of discrimination, caste politics, globalization, industrialization and religious tension. Gupta draws heavily from his own experience in culling material for his art, recasting traditional objects of Indian culture in contemporary media and contexts.
By combining two practical objects Subodh eliminates the inherent functionality of both and then recasts the once simple vehicle of sustenance and transportation as a precious luxury commodity. Working in the same spirit as Duchamp's readymade, in which he mounted a bicycle wheel on a bar stool rendering both functional items useless, Subodh segregates the form of an object and its function and condenses it all into an archetype -- be it sacred or profane -- of Indian art. The action of the artist then is the greatest function of all.