Sasha Altaf, Young Artists, Bodhi Book, to be published in 2008


Shilpa Gupta is an interdisciplinary artist and curator, exploring the dialogue between globalization, technology, gender, and race. Over the last decade, Shilpa Gupta has created an intensely evocative and challenging body of work engaging with the personal, the socio – cultural, the political, memory and history.


SA: Your approach is interdisciplinary; what is the role of research in your work and its importance? Does the research get synthesized into your practice? Or is the method determined by the project? Is the content in the work more important to you or the form?

Both content and form are equally important and totally interconnected. It is first a sensation that one has which gets translated to the work and then the source/reason of where it comes from (the content) and how does one want to make it and share it (the form) are intertwined. It is the desire to seek the source, where and how are constructs made that lead to research. Also the understanding that the media today, which has such a large presence in the way we see and understand the world, manipulates information that it processes to suit the people who control it, is what drives this desire.

SA: Does the research get synthesized into your practice? Or is the method determined by the project?

There is not standard really and depends as per the project. Sometimes what one knows and understands, rather attempts to understand, converges into a piece directly, sometimes, the piece asks for more information and sometimes the information one gathers and comes across may filter into several projects in different ways. It is a loop of events and concerns. And one must also acknowledge the role of accidents and associations, which lead to how works crystallize.

SA: Your work employs a whole gamut of nonconformist tactics - how do the different facets of your practice inform/complement or compete with each other? What drives your desire to work across so many disciplines?

I work with everyday material that surrounds us and I am particularly drawn to media that seamlessly merges with our daily lives in print, television or Internet. Being reproducible and can be easily distributed.

Besides just the very media, I am also interested in what it creates, the large mass emotions vis a vis the very personal aspirations. And how media can extend as well as amputate what we know and their inter-relation of media to each other and ourselves.

So when a photograph collected from a newspaper where young boys are posing against debris from a car bomb blast becomes part of an interactive touch screen, what I am interested in it is – our callousness and inability to really comprehend what we are seeing, where ‘our’ is the children, the photographer, the artist and even the end viewer who will always remain distant to the blast.
In the interactive projection where girls dressed up in camouflage exercise and swivel to War on Terror beats, the video editing software that is used which has the ability to duplicate the figure several times, and another software to write gaming codes. The presence of the current sophistication of this software and how they also create and contribute to television, or to game culture where a falling bomb on the screen appears distant and does not ‘really hurt’, it all feeds into the making of the project. Be it tiny speakers which punctures a blurred photograph of a security guard who is a recent migrant to Mumbai from a village near Srinagar, or a lonely microphone that sings Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny, a key interest is in what the media says, and what it transfers – perception itself. And therefore I am drawn to all that is able to carry and transmit sensation.

SA: Your art deals with issues of cultural fragmentation/ globalization. Is there a dynamic that is very specific? Or is it more generalized to cultural, socio – political experiences? Or both creating a contextual relation to each other?

We live today in an increasingly glocal world. With deep electronic media penetration distances have quickly collapsed propelling a very visible large change. But the world remains far from homogenous, and experiences and cultural geographies cannot be drawn as per map book references. Parts of Bombay will be closer to Paris, which is thousands of miles away than a village a few hundred km away.

Ideas and realities of, what is ‘near and distant’, is what interests me. Not just so called ‘sanctioned borders’ but imagined borders around nations, at home and within ourselves, that construct our realities and perceptions - with constant feeds received from areas that were unable to fall on any side of the border and those from highway and trespassing zones too.

SA: Are your works born out off or are a response to a political crisis? Identity politics? More broadly do you believe that yours is a socially engaged art practice? Or do you distance yourself from any sort of identity politics?

I am unable to understand why politics is looked upon as a distant word. Are we not all part of a society together? My work is about life around me that I attempt to understand through being an artist. The brutal 1992 riots, the Gujarat genocide continues to disturb but also the rise of security men in Mumbai, several of whom are migrants into Mumbai, from places such as Nepal, Kashmir, Bihar and UP whose eyes look at you and away walking down the streets between home and studio. The Half Widows, it is about greed, desire, hope and loss, mapped onto a nation, and so also onto a woman. Am interested in the several multilayered inter-related structures and definitions of a society and individuals relationship to them, which are not always apparent.

SA: Further, are you driven by the latest technological inventions, or do you basically work with the premise that you know what is going to be able to realize the idea that you have? How does the creative part, the conceptualization, how does that work for you?

Well, am not all that attracted to latest gizmos per se. But once in a while do look up the ‘tech’ section in local newspapers. And when I see the same kind of human behavioral pattern vis and vis technology constantly surface, it then begins to interest me.
It is not the technology but what it does and the desire for it that I find intriguing which then in time seeps into the works.

SA: There are formal elements in your work that have references from history, such as Nehru’s (stroke of midnight) speech, reference to Gandhi’s three monkeys, concerns with the ‘border’…What is your interest in repeating such concerns - in terms of history, in the age of globalization…. as they reverberate with so many different readings?

This is a rather broad long question. The one thing that can say here is that I am interested in history as am interested in memory, desire and time vis a vis structures that we create for ourselves. Be it the Constitution, or the Gandhi’s three monkeys or Borders, they are all either mass sanctioned or dreamed-for definitions of manuals and guidelines, which we have seen, get brutally violated, trespassed, broken, re-interpreted to new false conveniences. One gets shaken up and disturbed by these mass violence’s and therefore looks for what was said about them in the past, and history is not that far away – parts of it continue to stay and dominate the present and it is very interesting what stays and what gets left behind.

SA: Does your interactive art create a reciprocal relationship between the artist and the spectator? How do you respond to the user/ viewer co-informing the content of your work? Does this in anyway lead to a dialectical critique?

I would agree that in the larger practice there is a constant feedback from the viewer where one work feeds into another into another. There are several angles to this question.
One is, that the strategy that I often see myself employ is, that on becoming a “viewer” is a viewer of my work, and then the viewer becomes a viewer of himself/herself. For example, in Kidney Supermarket, the viewer takes home a sugar kidney, which comes with a manual the last line of which says, ‘dig a hole in the ground, place the kidney in it and wait for a kidney plant to grow’. This is an impossibility! But then this is what I could like to convey and here the viewer becomes a viewer of his/her own actions. So it is rather Artist to Viewer - A. Followed by Viewer A to Viewer A.

And to approach the question, in another way, as the works have been interactive, there is a constant feedback, which is extremely varied. Distributing Blame on the streets, there has been surprise, suspicion, agreement, disagreement, city complaints, anger and also have been ignored too several times. But this is a core part of the interactive works when one seeks a visible response, it is a far complex and wonderfully fragile situation where a lot is exchanged and larger memory residue created in the viewer’s mind!

Then there is a technical aspect, which pushes the medium too, in Blame I moved from poster/print on streets to object on shelf in a public gallery to selling Blame on a train. Or with digital works, have moved from mouse click to touch-screens to walk-in environments.