To Whomsoever It May Concern
Presented by Bodhi Art
May 17, 2007- June 16, 2007
Reception: May 16, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Probir Gupta opens at Bodhi Art, New York on May 16th, 2007. In this multi-layered series of works, artist Probir Gupta recreates the double-edged anxiety from the days of early colonial expansion in India. ‘To Whomsoever it May Concern,’ brings together many of the issues, Gupta has grappled with in his work over the years – the uncomfortable interfaces of race with memory, history and belonging, identity and violence. In this visceral exhibition on display till June 16th 2007, Gupta keeps an eye on the complex situations thrown up by a colonial past, while wryly referencing concerns that echo in our tumultuous present.
Gupta equates the body of his monstrously hybrid, mutant insect-like creatures with that of the colonial political figures. His creatures rendered in an anachronistically super-modernist style, are fitted with sinister, cold-steel mechanical appendages that reconstructs the clinically structured manner in which colonial oppression was injected into very fabric of the Indian identity.
Spotlight on 3 of the works from the exhibition:
In the ‘Anxiety of the Unfamiliar,’ Gupta shifts gears, from humane coexistence to one of suspicion, fear, dread and disgust. Going back into a colonial past he reclaims the discomfort and horror faced by early British officials when they first experienced the ground reality of the Indian subcontinent. They were assailed by the images of abject poverty, the heat and torrential rains, the swarming tropical insects, the severely mal-nourished laborers and the overpowering stench of their humanness – which compelled the British to ‘tame’ these ‘wild’ lands, and familiarize the alien. The confrontation of the geology and ecology was a complete affront to the senses for the colonizers and in some ways the memory of this initial repulsion stagnated and its slow decay lingered. This negativity towards its colony eventually brought about the inevitable expulsion. Gupta embraces and glorifies this equation - the territory becomes the large body of the beetle, glimmering in the tropical sun, the mysteries of its black interiors forever unknowable.
‘The Bene Israel Family’ is based on an old studio photograph. The family sits conventionally arranged according to hierarchy of age and gender. At first glance there is nothing to distinguish this family from any other Indian family at the turn of the 19th century. But the monumentality of the image begs further inquiry into the artist’s purpose. The indications lie in the subtle clues – the cap on the child’s head and his unshorn locks and then of course the title. A whole history spins off the canvas for the artist has revealed in this single image, the manner in which by sheer chance, owing to a shipwreck off the Indian coast, Jewish families settled on Indian shores. He references the research of Israeli historian Shalva Weil, who in her studies came to the conclusion that the seamless cultural integration of the Jewish community in India indicated the deep roots of secularism and acceptance that exist. This becomes a particularly pertinent point to underline at a time when the twentieth century has witnessed non-secular conflicts with the Jewish community as victims and perpetrators, in Europe and Israel.
Alongside his canvases are Gupta’s installations. In ‘The Colonial Designer,’ the artist recalls the impact of architecture on the city of Calcutta, the desire to replicate civilizations - from the Greek to the British. The Grecian columnar pedestal upholds a potent symbol of Western industrialization that had funded and fed on colonization – the sewing machine. This refers to the textile mills of Manchester whose products had flooded the Indian markets, decimating the indigenous industry and forcing upon the farmers the ruinous practice of indigo plantation. The gigantic machine is precariously perched upon its stand – now a derelict monstrosity, a plaintive reminder.
The seemingly dark and somber tenor of Gupta’s work is held together by its propositional title “To Whomsoever it May Concern,” – it’s directed at no one and everyone, its universal relevance remains key, and whether true concern exists, remains unknown; one is on the brink of a comma, perhaps with a question mark at the end.
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