He is a Bihari and proud to be so, unlike some of his fellow brothers, who, when they reveal their place of origin (even though Bihar occupies a proud place in medieval history for its prosperity and great educational institutes), do it with a touch of awkwardness.
After all, the word Bihari is used like a slang elsewhere and it takes courage to stand up to what the term implies. And, everybody is not Subodh Gupta, world-renowned contemporary artist, who, does not hesitate to open the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi-organised lecture-cum-slide show at the Government Museum and Art Gallery on Wednesday evening with these lines, "I am a Bihari and I am an artist. I am not a star as Diwan Manna puts it in his introductory speech. Please bear with my Bihari accent." He didn't have any, but the point was taken!
"Identity is very important to begin with," he says and each of his creations which fall between 1996 and 2009 bear the telltale signs of his roots — 29 Mornings, My Mother and Me, Bihari (a self-portrait), Curry, Giant Leap of Faith, God is Hungry, so on so forth. Subodh's journey of unusual art as well as success begins with 29 Mornings, an installation he did using 29 stools, some of them painted and some just plain. "It was the time I was desperate to do something different and when I got this opportunity to make an installation, I used paltas (traditional stools) as a medium to express my childhood memories. And since religion is such an integral part of our lives, I painted those paltas with ritualistic symbols," he explains. If his 29 mornings and subsequently My Mother and Me (an installation of cowdung cakes) paved the path for his unique style, it was curry, the installation with kitchen utensils, that gave him his signature style — making sculptures with anything one finds in the kitchen! "I just discovered what I could do with spoons, glasses, plates or lotas," he replies as someone asks him why he chose utensils for his medium. But then, the philosopher in him takes over. "In this time of globalisation, food is first thing that binds different races and cultures together. So came Curry. It had everything one finds in a middleclass kitchen. With Curry, I also established the fact that sculptures can be simplified." Sure it can, at least that is the impression one gets looking at Aam Adami (mangoes made in bronze) and Potato Eaters. But is it not a little too aam, creating potatoes or mangoes, however, real they look? "As an artist nothing is my creation," he says. "I just bring it from one place and
install it at another giving it the proper ambience, and the object becomes objet d'art," he explains. That explains some of his sculptures Doot (an ambassador car), Bullet (a motorbike with milk containers or the Door (a simple wooden door). There are others — God is Hungry, Very Hungry God, 1 KG War, Black Thing, Miter, UFO Gandhi's Three Monkeys, Still Steal Steel — those that have found a proud place in prestigious art galleries and museums around the globe and thus making him 'the representative' of contemporary art from Asia. The names sound as fascinating as his creations and as we try to go beyond the obvisous to get the hidden message in his works, he cautions, "Don't look for meanings always. Art is art." Yes, and Subosh is Subodh. Whether he likes it or not, he is the star in the art horizon, the brightest one at that.