Shilpa Gupta
Leila Hasham, Indian Highway Catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, 2010


Born 1976 in Mumbai, India
Lives and works in Mumbai, India.

Shilpa Gupta is an interdisciplinary artist who uses interactive video, photography and performance to query and examine themes of consumer culture, desire, security, militarism and human rights. Much of Gupta’s work relies on audience participation with the viewer challenged to respond, in order to extend the meaning of, or even to complete the work’s meaning; a social activist whose works are to be activated.

The viewer who engages with one of her works is invited to follow a series of steps, through which, the viewer might reasonably presume the meaning would be revealed. Instead, Gupta strands participants with ambiguity and uncertainty, speculating on the work’s intention. In a broader social and political context, Gupta reflects on ways in which we comply with specific codes of conduct and ordering devices generated by hegemonic groups, enabling them to administrate the masses.

This is echoed in the video projection, Untitled, 2004, presented at the Lyon Biennale, where spectators are visually captured and transformed into shadows by a live camera. Through this medium spectators perform in a live computer game of simulated landscapes and shadow play, forming an integral part of the narrative. While questioning of our lived and perceived realities, Gupta resists the notion of art as a commodity. Her choice of medium and presentation spaces exemplifies this resistance to commodification - the artwork becomes an experience rather than a coveted object, with a symbiosis between the viewer/participant
and the artist.

The issue of authorship is key to Gupta’s practice, resonating clearly in the performance work There is no explosive here, 2007. The viewer is encouraged to exit the Gallery, entering the public domain carrying a bag with the printed statement ‘There is no explosive here’. Suspicion and uncertainty are raised by this ‘true’ statement, not only for the person carrying the bag but also by those she encounters who read the text in a public space. Gupta blurs the boundary between artist, viewer and the work to create a fluid interaction in which all contributors share responsibility, thereby challenging the embedded racial and social stereotypes and drawing attention to anxieties within society.

Blame, 2002 – 04, produced in the context of Aar-Paar, a public art exchange between India and Pakistan (2000 – 05), expounds the utopian vision of blurring cultural, religious and national boundaries. Made in the same year as the Gujarat genocide, which resulted in thousands of Muslims deaths, this work has a poignant resonance. Gupta distributed bottles of simulated blood in and around Mumbai train stations and asked users to establish differences between the various blood’ samples. With the inscription labelled on the bottles, ‘blaming you makes me feel so good, so I blame you for what you cannot control – your religion, your nationality,’ Gupta presents the impossibility of establishing any form of categorisation or seeing differences, and in doing so, transcends the negative implications of religion, nationalism and fanaticism.

Employing a variety of media, whether it’s via interactive video installations, performance or photography, Gupta blurs the boundary between art and the culture of everyday life, prompting questions about how we think and who we are.