01 April 2006

piles of bronze cowdung cakes

the big deal this week in Welsh art circles was the announcement of the Artes Mundi prize, a £40,000 award given to one artist selected out of seven international finalists. this thursday and friday a symposium involved all seven (or actually eight, as one of the chosen artists is in fact a team of two) artists talking about their work and shmoozing with the local art folks and some not-so-local art folks.

it turns out that despite my location on the periphery in Wales, where one asks every day: hey, where's the Indian art? what kind of South Asian culture do you guys think you have here? what's going on?! despite all of this, in fact I've been lucky enough to meet and talk with several South Asian artists in the short 6 months since we moved. more than I met in State College, I can say. in February I interviewed two visiting Pakistani artists at the Swansea Print workshop, here as part of a large-scale exchange project in conjunction with the UK's Festival of Muslim Cultures. And this week, Subodh Gupta, one of the finalists for the Artes Mundi prize, was in Swansea to talk about his work. amazing.

unfortunately Subodh didn't win the prize, but it's still a huge honor to get selected, and the show at Cardiff runs until May. So I must get over there and see his work. he does these wonderful installations with stainless steel crockery that I find filled with humor as well as deeper statements about class, food, ritual, and the rest. Deepak Ananth, an independent curator and one of the two people on the selection committee for the show, interviewed Subodh and in his opening comments suggested that we have shifted from a question of East versus West to one of Rural versus Urban, at least when it comes to contemporary Indian art. I'm not sure this is true. Or at least, I'm not sure that the earlier generations (before Subodh's) in India weren't also dealing with the rural-urban issue. and in many ways, rural-urban is a cipher for modernization, a move away from what is idealized as the location of familial roots and ritual anchoring to a baseless, shifting, multifarious, westernized city.

Subodh uses cow dung in many of his works, although it's becoming less prevalent in his more recent pieces as he shifts to the kitchen implements. the resonance of the cow (holy, life-giver, milk-giver, mundane) and the cow dung (fuel, village, high-value, antiseptic/cleansing, women's work, renewable resource) flow through all of Subodh's work, whether it's his bicycle-with-milk containers (titled 'Cow') or his basket of cow dung patties in bronze. so there is something of the rural-urban there. but I wonder if that emphasizes too much the potential of his perfect VH1 story: born in a small village in rural Bihar, he took on the big city galleries and won!

can he ever leave the village? will the art critics ever let him? hm.

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