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"To Whomsoever It May Concern: Paintings and Installations by Probir Gupta"
2007-05-16 until 2007-06-16
Bodhi Art
New York, NY, USA United States of America

‘To Whomsoever It May Concern,’ an exhibition of paintings and installations by Probir Gupta opens at Bodhi Art, New York on May 16th, 2007. The melding of art and politics is key in this series of works by Probir Gupta. Originally from Calcutta, a region marked by leftist politics and marginalized groups, Gupta’s work uses found objects and expressive brushwork to portray the conflicts inherent to this region and the heroic natures of the marginalized survivors tested by trying circumstances and harsh realities. The title of the show, ‘To Whomsoever It May Concern’ addresses the public at large and is an oblique reference to the overly formal forms of address used during the reign of the Raj.

Colonization is a prevalent theme in Gupta’s work and Calcutta was one of the key points of entry. In works like Anxiety of the Unfamiliar I and II he describes the repulsion and fear that the colonists felt on arrival to India. Painting from the perspective of the colonist, in Anxiety of the Unfamiliar I, Gupta depicts a large black beetle, at once menacing and grotesque, representing the territory of India. On the left, in the body of the other black insect, are shadows of the arriving ships, their flags waving in the air, and the silhouettes outlined of the figures on board. In the background marked in yellow is the Indian subcontinent itself with the two insects superimposed upon it. The beetle is superimposed on the right side of the subcontinent, roughly representing the eastern side of India where Calcutta is located. The insect to the left, with the silhouettes of the approaching ships, depicts the arrival from the west of the English colonists.

In Anxiety of the Unfamiliar II, skeletal figures stand in a row, their skeletal forms encased in insect shells. At the base of the painting is a row of freedom fighters, each important in the history of Bengali resistance to English colonization. The feet of the skeletal forms are cut off, replaced by the portraits of the freedom fighters as a supportive base. The fighters are all nationalists from the first Bengali resistance: Sir Aurobindo, Subhash Chandra Bose, Rashbehari Bose, Benoy Badal and Dinesh, Maulana Azad, Master Surya Sen among others. The skeletal figures encased in insect shells represent the colonists’ perspective on the indigenous people and territory of India, once again echoing the fear, trepidation, repulsion, and mistrust that they felt for the unfamiliar upon arrival.

Moving on from the theme of fear and anxiety in relation to the unknown, Gupta goes on to explore marginalized communities in his paintings. In the The Bene Israel Family there is a strange dissonance between the portrayed image and the title of the work. The former refers to the Jewish families who settled on the shores of India by the accidental circumstance of a shipwreck. Here is a family portrait of what appears to be a typical Indian family, arranged according to hierarchy and gender. However, it is in fact a Jewish family that has seamlessly merged into the fabric of Indian life; their traditional Indian garments obscure their ethnic and religious origins. Clues to their real identity lie in the figure of the child in the foreground, who wears a yamaka and sports unshorn locks.

Alongside his canvases are Gupta’s installations. In The Colonial Designer, the artist recalls the impact of architecture on the city of Calcutta and the desire to replicate civilizations (from Greek to the British). Its Grecian columnar pedestals (their phallic references not lost upon the viewer) support a potent symbol of western industrialization that had funded and fed on colonization- the sewing machine. The machine furthermore refers to the textile mills of Manchester, England, whose products had flooded the Indian markets, decimating the indigenous industry and forcing upon the farmers the ruinous practice of indigo plantation. The gigantic Singer sewing machine is precariously perched upon its working table of Grecian columns, a spool of rope wrapped around it. Its scale is exaggerated.

Gupta invites all to read his work and reflect upon the intertwining of the aesthetic and political inherent in it. He has had several solo shows of paintings, multi-media structures and assemblages, all of which reflect his passionate involvement with Human Rights issues. Gupta studied at the Ecole Supérieure Des Beaux-Arts, Paris.

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