Subodh Gupta

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Subodh Gupta

Subodh Gupta is an Indian contemporary artist based in New Delhi. Trained as a painter, he went on to experiment with a variety of media. His work encompasses sculpture, installation, painting, photography, performance and video.

Early life and education[edit]

Gupta was born in Bihar. His father, a railway guard, died in his early forties, when Gupta was 12. His mother came from a farming family and sent Gupta to live with her brother for few years in a remote village. “Not a single school kid wore shoes, and there is no road to go to school. Sometimes we stop in the field and we sit down and eat green chickpea's before we go to school," he said in an interview with Ginny Dougary for The Times.[1] "After leaving school, Gupta joined one of the four small theatre groups in Khagaul and worked as an actor for five years. He also designed posters to advertise the plays, which is when it was first suggested that he go to art college. He ended up working as a part-time newspaper designer and illustrator while studying at the College of Art, Patna (from 1983-1988). The day he was offered a permanent job by the newspaper, he packed it in to try his luck in Delhi, where he was awarded a scholarship by a government-run initiative, and a space to work in the Garhi Studios," wrote Dougary in her 2009 article "Subodh Gupta, India's hottest new artist, talks about skulls, milk pails and cow dung."

Sexual harassment allegations[edit]

In 2018, several Indian artists, including Gupta, had their names mentioned in accusations of sexual harassment in an anonymous Instagram account at the height of the Me Too movement. In light of the accusations, Gupta stepped down from his role as guest curator of the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, India.[2]

In September 2019, Gupta filed a defamation lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against the anonymous Instagram handle, seeking roughly 70,000 USD in damages.[3] Gupta’s lawyers have asked for the name of the individual behind the anonymous Instagram account to be shared with the court in a sealed envelope and are demanding that Google block a number of URLs that link to content related to the allegations made against Gupta. [4][5]


Gupta is best known for incorporating everyday objects that are ubiquitous throughout India, such as the steel tiffin boxes used by millions to carry their lunch as well as thali pans, bicycles, and milk pails. From such ordinary items the artist produces sculptures that reflect on the economic transformation of his homeland and which relate to Gupta's own life and memories. As Gupta says: 'All these things were part of the way I grew up. They are used in the rituals and ceremonies that were part of my childhood. Indians either remember them from their youth, or they want to remember them.'[6] And: 'I am the idol thief. I steal from the drama of Hindu life. And from the kitchen - these pots, they are like stolen gods, smuggled out of the country. Hindu kitchens are as important as prayer rooms.'[7]

One of his works, consisting of Indian cooking utensils, is 'Line of Control' (2008), a colossal mushroom cloud constructed entirely of pots and pans. The work was shown in the Tate Triennial at Tate Britain in 2009 and is currently exhibited at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi.[8]

His oil on canvas painting 'Saat Samundar Paar' went under the hammer for Rs 34 million in the Saffronart autumn online auction.[9] In 2008, he along with several other artists raised 39.3 million for Bihar flood victims.[10]

He has created a Banyan Tree from stainless steel which is kept in the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.[11]

Selected works[edit]

  • My Mother and Me, 1997

Gupta set himself apart from others of his generation by adopting organic materials intrinsic to Indian culture in his work, most notably cowdung. My Mother and Me was a cylindrical structure ten feet high made from cowpats with a layer of ash spread across the floor. The seminal work was constructed during a workshop conducted by the Khoj Artists' Association workshop at Modinagar near Delhi.

  • Bihari, 1999

Gupta addressed his identity and rural roots through a self-portrait enmeshed in cow dung and a single LED-inscribed Devanagiri word, “Bihari,” meaning someone from Bihar, a qualifier often used as a slur deriding his fellow people who seek economic refuge in other states.[12] In doing so he not only embraced his identity but a certain aesthetic that could otherwise be dismissed as kitschy.

  • Very Hungry God, 2006

In 2007, this monumental skull composed of gleaming stainless steel vessels was displayed outside François Pinault's Palazzo Grassi, at the 2007 Venice Biennale. The French Billionaire had acquired the work that was displayed around the same time as Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull For the Love of God at White Cube. "A giant skull made out of utensils, the sculpture related to the venerable Christian tradition of the memento mori, as well as modern special effects extravaganzas like The Mummy. Subodh had managed to take a ubiquitous symbol and make it meaningful anew, an enormously difficult task that could only have been accomplished by a consummate artist," wrote Indian art critic Girish Shahane in January 2007.[13]

  • What does the vessel contain, that the river does not, 2012

Originally created for the first edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Gupta’s poetically titled 21.35m long, 3.15m wide, 110 cm deep boat was stuffed with an assemblage of miscellaneous found objects; abandoned chairs, beds, fishing nets, window frames et al. Echoing sentiments of migration, displacement, belonging, movement, and stability, the work derives its title from a line in Rumi’s “The Sufi Path of Love”: “What does the vat contain that is not in the river? / What does the room encompass that is not in the city? / This world is the vat, and the heart the running stream, / this world the room, and the heart the city of wonders.[14]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Cascone, Sarah. "Artist Subodh Gupta Steps Down as Co-Curator of the Goa Arts Festival Amid Allegations of Sexual Harassment". ArtNet.
  4. ^ "Judge orders Facebook and Google to remove #MeToo posts against artist Subodh Gupta". Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  5. ^ "A Judge Has Ordered Facebook to Reveal the Anonymous Instagrammer Who Made #MeToo Allegations Against Artist Subodh Gupta". artnet News. 1 October 2019. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  6. ^ Ranesh, Randeep (20 February 2007). "The Damien Hirst of Delhi". The Guardian. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. ^ Subodh Gupta. Quoted by C. Mooney, Subodh Gupta: Idol Thief, Art Review, 17 December 2007, p. 57
  8. ^ Sculptor Subodh Gupta's Line of Control displayed in Delhi India Today, April 21, 2012
  9. ^ The Economic Times, India Times, 3 June 2008
  10. ^ Artists lend a brush to flood victims The Economic Times, November 18, 2008
  11. ^ Profile | Art for the mango republic Live Mint, January 11, 2014.
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