Though her work reflects the intricate complexities of cultural and political dynamics, Shilpa Gupta doesn’t want to be branded an activist artist.
She’d rather be known as a regular person who creates simple narratives that engage the viewer. Critics, however, rate her as anything but usual, as she belongs to the rare breed of creators who have changed the way we perceive art.
Be it the religious website blessed-bandwidth.net, video projection of India maps created by 100 people in Mumbai to show their perception of conflict, or distribution of bottles of blood in local trains and buses as part of Blame to get people to look beyond race, Shilpa has always made unusual use of available media to make a strong point. “The reason I use TV, video, photos and computers is because they are familiar to the public. They are used to receiving information via the Internet and video,” she explains. This use of advanced technology and media also helps cement the relationship between the artwork, the viewer and the shared space. “Most people spend little time in front of paintings. But when they find their own shadows mingling with simulated landscapes on the computer, they slowly become part of the unfurling narrative,” she elaborates. Ever since school, Shilpa has been interested in the making of meaning—how meaning travels and gets distorted. But in the midst of all this gadgetry, she doesn’t lose focus of the humanness and compassion that one needs to have towards issues. “Take Looking at Kurukshetra, which is about our active reality. This is a place where there are several temples and sarovars dedicated to the Mahabharata. However, this stands challenged historically,” she says. The creation that was recently showcased at Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi is a single photograph that portrays Shilpa’s journey in search of the epic battlefield. A lot has changed since she graduated from the prestigious Sir JJ School of Arts in Mumbai as a sculptor in 1998. “There has been a movement towards discovering new media and getting the audience to participate,” says Shilpa. Her experience has also led her to discover newer divisions in society. “Initially, I used to talk about divisions in terms of gender. But as I travelled, I realised that my brown skin was yet another division. That’s the way art works. You get a cue, ask questions, things widen up and then you discover something else,” she adds.