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Subodh Gupta

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1964, Khagaul, Bihar, India
Lives and works in New Delhi

Subodh Gupta works in a large variety of mediums like sculpture, paintings, photography and video. He is most easily recognized by his use of everyday objects like steel plates, food tiffins, milk pails, cooking pots and pans. Through his works he explores the concepts of village to city migration, the charged and unpredictable encounter with globalism and cultural hybridity.



Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting), College of Arts and Crafts, Patna, India


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India's fast-changing culture provides both subjects and materials for his installations

“Silk Route”, 2007, at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, UK, created a new geography within the exhibition space with hordes of steel and copper tiffins and kitchenware, the archetype of any Indian kitchen. The very materiality of Subodh’s works engages with the idea of the everyday object, re-galvanised within new terrain to create novel meanings relevant in a global economy. The tiffins swinging around in conveyor belts, like that of a sushi restaurant refer to the new economic dimensions that country is waking up to and transcultural domains the country is negotiating with. “Like 80 percent of the population in India, I grew up carrying my lunch in these Tiffin pots... In modern India sushi restaurants are opening up all over, but the history of the Silk Route, a route of trade across India and Asia, goes back centuries. The objects I pick already have their own significance. I put them together to create new meanings” says Gupta.

Subodh Gupta, Line of Control, 2008, stainless steel, steel structure, stainless steel utensils. Exhibition view, Tate Triennial, 2009.

Works in mediums as varied as painting, installation, photography, video and performance

Subodh Gupta manifests his ideas through multiple mediums and techniques from traditional paintings, sculptures, site-specific installations, performances, videos and photography. His rendering of the ubiquitous Indian stainless steel utensils in his works is the focal point of his oeuvre, as a visual signification employed in multi-meaning creation. “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.” says Gupta. The artist has also worked with cow dung to explore the ideas of the sacred and the hygiene, contrasts between city and country, most elaborately in his video Pure, 2000.

Subodh Gupta, Untitled, 2008, oil and enamel on canvas, 89 3/4 x 65 3/4”.

Subodh Gupta, Two Cows, 2003-08, bronze, chrome, dimensions variable.

Subodh Gupta, Leap of Faith, 2005-06, stainless steel (six buckets) edition of three, 101" x 45" x 45".

Works with objects of mass utility-objects of the middle class kitchen and of ritual associations

Subodh Gupta is best known for his large sculptures constructed from dozens of stainless steel and copper utensils. He translates the conceptual art format of the readymade into a rich exploration of everyday life in India and shifting notions of artistic and economic value. His works of stainless steel buckets carry specific signifiers. “Buckets are very resonant to me. Where I grew up, big families lived together, and taking the bucket meant you were going to bath. It’s all creating juxtapositions between the personal and something bigger,” says Gupta. Cow dung is another aspect of rural India’s everyday life that was an early component in Gupta’s works.  The cow dung as a cleansing agent, and doubling as a cooking fuel instils the notion of it being a purifying element, both ritual and symbolic, and this becomes an artistic exploration point for the artist.

Subodh Gupta, My Mother and Me, installation view.

Origin and identity is the core of his works

Subodh Gupta’s main focus deals with Indian themes but always aware of the western gaze that his works attract. “The expansion of the art world means that to a certain extent, everything is shrinking together, and you have to be aware of international discourses in your works” says Gupta.
Very Hungry God, 2006, in the Grand Canal outside the Palazzo Grass in Venice sought to remodel a new iconographic language. The skull as a Western motif in art and architecture adds a cross-cultural volume with Subodh’s infusion of Indian material in the steel tiffin-pots in this particular installation. This posits a dialogic discourse between the East and the West, and a confluence of ideas and material in art.

Subodh Gupta, Very Hungry God, 2006. Installation view, Grand Canal, palazzo Grassi, Venice.

Preoccupation with vehicles of movement to mark economy, mobility and migration

The cycle ,which is the single unit of mobility in towns and villages of India, the scooter or two-wheeler that transports the Indian nuclear family and the Ambassador car, the pre-economic reforms symbol of official power — all constellations of mobility and migration, within the ambit of the economic, formulate a stereotype of Indian roads. Everything Is Inside, 2004, is one of the major series of works based on the Ambassador car by Subodh Gupta.  The Ambassador cars that play as taxis near the airports, the luggage tied on their carriers became a part of Subodh’s paintings and sculptures.With this introduction of image ensemble in his works, he talks about the labour export and migration of the Biharis since the time of colonialism. He knew that poverty, illiteracy, hostile climates, bad governance, feudalism and casteism had sent the Biharis as indentured labours in foreign farms. Subodh has brought all these discourses in his art.

Subodh Gupta, Everything Is Inside, 2004, taxi and bronze, 108" x 63" x 40".