Shilpa Gupta’s Multi-Sensorial Projects Invite The Audience To Engage With The Disenfranchised Lives Amidst Us

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Bottles filled with menstrual blood call out blame games in the name of nationalism.

Two microphones swing back and forth between two poles echoing speeches by Nehru and Jinnah. A wall of soap has the word ’threat‘ carved across it.

To experience a Shilpa Gupta art installation is not a recreational event. You cannot stroll inside with your cold Americano, expecting to take some Instagram-worthy selfies with awkward pauses. Gupta takes no prisoners. There is no room for being superficial, for skirting the issues staring us in the face, for dimming down the impact of an event that is changing the world order.

But does the artist owe it to the world to respond, consciously respond rather, to the immediate realities around us? Gupta believes otherwise. “There has to be a space for everyone to just be and respond in the ways they want to,” she says. “These expectations that people have about what art should be goes against the art-making practice. There is no need for it.”

Gupta’s multi-channel work Untitled (Wives of the Disappeared) in 2006 highlighted the plight of the half-wives of Kashmir— women who are still searching for their missing husbands who might have been killed in a militant attack, apprehended by the military or anything at all. Because of the uncertainty surrounding their fate, they cannot be declared dead by the state. In a layered installation, the viewer is invited to process a video that seems to be stitched from a piercing needle. This video shows the numerical records of the missing husbands. Another figure of a woman wrapped in white depicts the gestures of Kashmiris when they are patted down by the state.

“For me, it’s very much internal, and even Untitled comes from having been to Srinagar and facing certain experiences that are inescapable,” she says. “When you realise that you narrowly missed a blast, you respond and making the work allows you to see these things. You get caught up in the storm.”

Across these installations and experiences, the medium and mode of materials differ. From soaps having the word ’threat‘ carved on them to using menstrual blood—it’s a staggering range. Even in the presentation, audio files blend into moving projections, camera silhouettes distort over a wide field.

“The material is not external. It’s part of the work. I’m not taking something to make it become something. It changes and is interlinked. Even those threat soaps can be physically taken away by the viewer. It’s all about understanding what these objects mean on their own and finding meaning-making out of them.”

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