Time is a Rider

Time is a Rider

Recent works by Probir Gupta

By Aditi Ghildiyal

Probir Gupta

The art of our times encompasses a broad range of traditional and experimental media. Artists employ diverse vocabulary of abstract and representational forms to convey their message. We live in an age of excessive consumption of resources, energy and information thus most contemporary artists base their art practice upon social and political concerns, investigating issues of cultural authority and identity politics. Art serves as a catalyst for an on-going process of open-discussion and intellectual inquiry about the world today. In India the art practice of Probir Gupta is synonymous with these concepts.

Crusading upon the follies engulfing our socio-political systems, Probir Gupta confronts the viewer with stark realities. His works are straightforward, rife with narratives of political struggles, activism and historical unfoldings. Probir’s art revolves around people, politics, discrimination, and marginalization. Over the years the artist has tried to sensitise people in respect to important social concerns dealing with human rights and liberation. A major shift in his art practice took place through projects with school children and university going adults concerning the malpractices existing in our times. The artist has also been part of projects for UN Women.

The artist’s works ooze out of his personal archives and are constructs of metaphorical memories. He has never committed to a particular medium as such but at times the medium does become a potent catalyst in conveying the message. He ends up juxtaposing varied mediums and genres together to enable a lucid illustration of his thoughts.

Probir Gupta

Probir’s recent body of works can be seen at the ongoing fourth edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kerala. The works are an assemblage of sculptures, installations and paintings. Spread across the length and breadth of an expansive room, his works seem to create a dialogue with one another. A stand-alone brick wall in a corner of the room takes your notice as you enter. It has long black cascading hair from the top. On a close inspection one sees conspicuous etchings resembling the graph of an ECG running across the breadth of the brick wall. The artist made this work to commemorate the unfortunate rapes in Muzaffarnagar in the throes of the 2013 genocide. The Wall stands as a witness and as a divider wherever women are being abused in areas of conflict and the etched ECG graph (real recordings downloaded of the internet by the artist) are of people dealing with paranoia. The top of the wall is covered with upholstery and from an angle appears to be a silhouette of a female buttocks and legs. The hair becomes a blaring signifier of gender the work pertains to. Hair has always been considered the most beautiful accessory of a woman and in times of abuse becomes a tool to shame and torture the victim.

Probir Gupta

Diagonally facing The Wall is a mix media installation with a Buddha head. A metal brass plate in the front is inscribed with the date April 2003. This was the year Iraq was attacked following which its museums were ransacked and destroyed. The work deliberates the concept of a “Museum of Victory”. A museum of victory houses the spoils of a war and often is perceived as a taunt by the boastful victor. The Buddha head is defaced and facing a broken piece of a muscular arm and a body covered with multiple feet. At the bottom there is a suitcase enclosed within bamboo scaffoldings or ballis. Laden with metaphorical statements the work portrays the possibility of a museum of victory underway.

Probir Gupta

The third sculpture is titled “Time is the Rider”. The work is a compilation of a structure made with hundreds of feet with a saddle on the top and a radar (half chair like construction) affixed to it. On one of his visits to Kolkata, Probir, met with a group of women who work as help in people’s houses, while some are employed as nurses. What intrigued the artist about them was their displaced lineage and stagnated destinies. These women were descendants of families that had migrated from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) during the partition. They came from urban middle class families but in the throes of partition were robbed of their wealth and ended up taking menial jobs in order to support themselves. They are the devotees of Manasa Devi – the snake goddess and worship her every evening in the temple praying for protection and well-being of their families. As a tribute to these women, the artist took a cast of their feet and composed a half-mound like structure composed of hundreds of feet piled one on top of the other. The work takes the shape of an excavated form preserving their past histories.The saddle on top and the radar, used to navigate, is a signifier of the political dominance by the rich and powerful. 

Probir Gupta

The room comprises of three paintings apart from the sculptures mentioned above. All three are grand in scale and composed of more than one canvas, a recurrent characteristic of Probir’s practice. The canvas next to the Buddha installation illustrates an oath taking ceremony. The painting titled What If? is a tongue-in-cheek ideation of the artist’s imagination. The figure on the right is Martin Luther King, a martyr to the cause of human rights movement in America. He is the ‘oath-giver’, so to say, making George W. Bush take the oath during the swearing in ceremony for Presidency. Behind them is a Naval Officer supervising the ceremony. The figures are juxtaposed against a background of scrap metal – again, a common occurrence in Probir’s canvases. This fantastical scene not only astounds the viewer by its thoughtful casting but also puts forth a question in our minds – What if it was the reality? Would the sad political events of the 21st century have had been avoided?

The artist has had a long term association with Mayapuri – the biggest scrapyard in New Delhi – over many years now. The majority of scrap brought in is of destroyed, dilapidated and discarded old military vehicles. The imagery of the scrapyard keeps on haunting the protagonists in the artist’s visual panoramas. 

Probir Gupta

This particular work is fragmented too. On the top you see iron smiths, colloquially known as Lohars, consumed in their everyday life, juxtaposed against a collage of the scrapyard. This particular work is fragmented too. Below is the subterranean depicted in rage and commotion, perhaps mother earth disappointed with man’s unscrupulousness. The subterranean is a metaphor for the marginalized who are often ignored and neglected by the upper echelons of our society., perhaps mother earth disappointed with man’s unscrupulousness. The subterranean is a metaphor for the marginalized who are often ignored and neglected by the upper echelons of our society.

Probir Gupta

The third and the last work is an assemblage of eight small canvases atop a large painting facing an iron structure called chassis, ie. the main armature of the car that endures the entire weight of the machine. The title of the work is Restore: 1790 A Chassis from Paris and deliberates upon the significance of the sidelined sections of our society in the functioning of our ecosystem. The small canvases on top are icons, heroes of human revolutions in contemporary times. Their photographs have been pasted upon canvases painted in the manner of religious icons from the Byzantine era. By highlighting the African American and the Dalit icons in the work the artist creates a parallel between the struggles of the marginalised sections at the local and global level. The large canvas again depicts a turmoil within the underground.

Born in 1960, Probir did his graduation from Government College of Arts and Crafts, Kolkata and later went on to study at Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux At, Paris. The artist lives and works in Delhi.

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