Reinventing the Readymade: Subodh Gupta
Born in a small town in Bihar (eastern India), Subodh Gupta (b. 1964) studied at the College of Art in Patna before moving to New Delhi where he currently lives and works. His installations reflect on issues of class, globalisation and migration, and as we will see in the video below, he is especially known for his use of everyday materials that are unconventional in artmaking practices.
Gupta’s early works reference his childhood and are autobiographical in nature. One such installation titled My Mother and Me (2006) is a cylindrical architectural structure composed of layered cowpats, an organic material that he used in many of his early works. Its structure references Gupta’s childhood memory of how cow dung was stored and covered up for use during the monsoon. It also holds material significance in Indian villages, where it is used for many purposes, including as fuel, building materials and even for spiritual cleansing. Envisioning this installation as an environment that people could walk into, he burned some cow dung in the space, creating a layer of ash on the floor. The inclusion of such performative elements stems from Gupta’s background in theatre, where experimented with set design and acting before attending art school.
Gupta soon transitioned away from organic materials and began incorporating manufactured and found objects in his works. This allegorical shift in materials reflected his own migration to Delhi and movement across socio-economic categories, while also signalling the industrial and technological transformations that were taking place across India. Steel objects became a signature medium for his practice, and he began to transform and adapt mass-produced utensils in his installations in distinct ways.
Let’s look at his incorporation of such unique mediums in his practice.