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A solo show of works by Probir Gupta
A solo show, entitled ‘Desert Scrap’ by Probir Gupta, comprises paintings and sculptures that are enormous in scale and intense in their narrative. Impressive on counts of both size and subject, they appear as grand history paintings, containing intricate details and pulsating backgrounds.

His new series of intricately detailed paintings and meticulously made sculptures is on view at Nature Morte, Berlin. As a curatorial note suggests, his work is getting increasingly experimental and challenging, to both the viewer and himself. Known for his propensity to combine art with community and development work, Probir Gupta’s diverse practice reflects his involvement with human rights issues. His oeuvre essentially touches upon issues of war, religion, development and rampaging globalization.

Probir Gupta hails from Kolkata and belongs to a restless period of sociopolitical turmoil initiated by the Maoist Naxalite movement in the early 1970’s that deeply affected him. While the violence of the political ideology of the time did not appeal him, the social inequities highlighted by it became a major concern for him. He started exploring the possibilities of the visual medium to respond to this civil strife.

After studying at the Government College of Art and Craft, Probir Gupta joined the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris, and stayed there as a migrant worker. Once he returned to Delhi, he played the dual role of an artist-activist, in a way striving to be a history painter of prevalent times. London’s Alexia Goethe Gallery that presented his first London solo last year, described him as ‘the artist, who stands out as an independent voice at this critical moment in our history when invisible forces of power are devising more menacing forms of social repression’.

Regarding his paintings, critic Shukla Sawant has noted: “They are not laconic records of events using an objective eye. His work responds to the situations he finds himself in, as the forces of ‘progress’ in India have been rather uneven in their dispensation of the benefits of economic growth. It has the disturbing ability to enable the viewer to link to the world of the dispossessed. He questions the structural strength of our democracy as it loses balance in response to the invisible voice of a controlling master.”

Probir Gupta vehemently opposes authoritarian forces posing a threat to our individual freedoms through his art. In fact, presenting a critique of organized state violence in the name of progress has been his recurrent theme. His latest works at Nature Morte address issues relevant to India today. They touch upon issues of war, religion, development, globalization and genocide. He equates the visual language of scorched and deformed industrial debris with the profound and omnipresent truth of human suffering in the 21st Century.

His suite of works is also being showcased as part of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ show of contemporary Indian art at The Saatchi Gallery. In his work ‘Rats And Generals In A Zoological Park’ (Acrylic and oxides on canvas) a full-length portrait of Mahatma Gandhi stands robust in front of a colored version of the Bayeux tapestry. The artist here reorganizes history into something messy, troubling and rueful in which nothing appears to take precedence. ‘Free Passage’ is another of his complex paintings. The figures here appear in black and white with text painted over them in an act of protest. The forms appear on the brink of dissolving, as color disappears from the foreground and becomes rooted into the distance. ‘Anti-Colonial Inputs’ depicts a face in the centre, from which morphs a bird with a large protruding beak, and a series of more indistinguishable forms. The title references notions of early classification and ethnography during colonialism.

The artist often inserts self-written text or documentation in his installations, canvasses and photographic images that he draws from the archives and others sources relevant to the subject. Summing up his style and philosophy, an accompanying essay to ‘Desert Scrap’ states, “Probir Gupta sources his shrapnel from abandoned military waste and using this debris as his clay he models mutant and macabre bodies and landscapes from these parts. Technically, he employs a thick, almost violent, use of impasto and brush strokes and his imagery weaves rough-hewn bits of machinery into human flesh. His brutalist style has elements of agit-prop as well as abstract impressionism and art brut.”