Mu­seum of col­lectibles from home and the uni­verse

India Today - - THE ARTS -

IDON’T THINK about what I col­lect. I just col­lect,” says artist Su­bodh Gupta. Like the root he bought in Kochi or the fig­urine in a lit­tle an­tique store. A gold-plated potato, used uten­sils, en­tire kitchens bought from slums, boats but no river, and stat­ues and fig­ures from his na­tive Kha­gaul in Bi­har and else­where.

He has built mas­sive struc­tures in steel and brass, played around with cow­dung. The as­so­cia­tive power of his works is what gives them the scale they have at­tained.

He might buy his uten­sils in whole­sale mar­kets, but they have lost their par­tic­u­lar­ity. There is rural and global, nos­tal­gia and in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. You can cap­ture the ten­sion only if you have had that pro­longed strug­gle with self and iden­tity.

Yet, he won’t in­dulge you with a nar­ra­tive. The art must be ab­stract at all costs. His ab­strac­tion is bent on draw­ing out the es­sen­tials, al­most squeez­ing them to com­mu­ni­cate the in­tan­gi­ble.

All his life he had wanted to get away from the small rail­way town where he grew up. He es­caped fi­nally, only to find the past in­form­ing ev­ery­thing that he does in his present.

“I started my work with what­ever I had seen in my child­hood,” he says. “Who knows who we are? Our mind has so much power. We are hold­ing ev­ery­thing within us.”

His mu­seum is a lim­i­nal space. It has ev­ery­thing from the past that is get­ting trans­formed into the fu­ture. Like the book of recipes where he is cur­rently doc­u­ment­ing the mem­ory of food.

“I find my planet on my plate,” he says. He is in com­mu­nion with his uni­verse that is a col­lec­tion of ob­jects soon to be lost to his­tory. Like the mix­ing bowl in his stu­dio. Cast in stone, it has a red and white che­quered cloth, a gam­cha, and kneaded dough. It sums up the churn­ing of the uni­verse in a uten­sil, the tur­bu­lence, the thick­ness of iden­tity, the mal­leabil­ity of form and shape. And yet it is as sim­ple as say­ing it is part of where we come from.

“It is part of us. A mem­ory. An on­go­ing thing of ar­chiv­ing which is so fleet­ing,” he says. Mem­ory has po­etic li­cence. It goes back and forth, it ed­its and re­con­fig­ures. His mu­seum then is a nos­tal­gist’s land­scape.

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