Love-letters from the Internet
Ulrich Clewing, Culturebase.net, 2003


A train on location or the Internet, video-films or special language-recognition programs for computer - the sites where the young Indian artist Shilpa Gupta presents her works are as varied as her ends and means. In her works she questions viewers' expectations as well as normative role-models of social behaviour. She shows her works in not only museums and galleries but also in public places, to reach folk otherwise outside the domain of art.

Shilpa Gupta is still young but already one of India's most internationally known artists. Her medium is hard to specify, since she turns to videos and performances, Internet-art, installations and actions in public places. If there is a common denominator in her approach, it is her love of variety. Born in Mumbai in 1976, Shilpa Gupta belongs to a generation of artists who have grown up with the so-called new media and turn to them as naturally as a cat to milk. To her, digital technology is a tool like a brush for a painter or a chisel for a sculptor. It can be used in one of various ways according to need.

Shilpa Gupta received her training in art at the Sir J.J. School of Art in her hometown of Mumbai and turned to the public early, having her first exhibition in a gallery in 1996 at the age of 20. Since then her works have been shown in many exhibitions, not only in India but also internationally, on various continents, in places like Toronto and Auckland, Sydney, Peking, Aix-en-Provence, Manchester, London and the 4th International Festival of young independent artists in Slovenia.

If so inclined, one could say that she is a concept artist, but such a generalisation would hardly be fair. What her works have in common with those of concept-art is the fact that viewers are invited to choose their own personal attitudes towards them. It is this which makes the works artistically interesting.

In one of Gupta's video-films for instance, she is seen shaving her whole body, and round the monitor, there are star-shaped arrangements of hair. Viewers thus witnesses a very intimate act and slip into the role of voyeurs. This leads to an ambivalent situation, since on the one hand the film's iconography is shown openly to the public and on the other hand is so intimate that viewers tend to shy away, wary of being drawn into intimacy with a stranger. Hence this video-film makes them rather neurotic: on the one hand there is candour and seduction, on the other hand shyness and shame. After awhile one comes to realise that a main theme of these works is the adoption of a personal standpoint.

The questioning of social behaviour and role-models is one of Gupta's aims. Another is to reach out to folk otherwise outside the domain of art. This has consequences in her choice of location. The performance 'Blame', for instance, took place in coaches of trains in a suburb of Mombai. On another occasion, together with Huma Mulji, she organised an action (aar paar) in which art posters were pasted onto commercial billboards in India and Pakistan. Unusual too was the Internet project www.sentiment-express.com. Users were able to use an interactive installation to record love-poems, which were then sent on anonymously to addressees. Shilpa Gupta, one of the founding members of the art society Open Circle, lives and works in Mumbai.

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