Indian artists at Venice Biennale 2019

The art event displays the precarious aspects of existence in today's world


May 16, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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The ‘Angst’ series depicting the life of people on streets (Image: Andrea Avezzù, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia)

India is back at the Venice Biennale with its second-ever pavilion after a hiatus of eight years and also has three artists participating in the main exhibition.

The 58th International Art Exhibition, curated by Ralph Rugoff titled ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ and organised by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta, was inaugurated on May 11, 2019. Three Indian artists- Shilpa Gupta, Gauri Gill and Soham Gupta- are part of the main exhibit along with 76 other artists from around the world.

‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ explores through the artwork the precarious aspects of existence today, following the “post-war order” society. The theme also looks into the influx of fake news and alternative facts in current political climate. It acknowledges that art does not exercise its forces in the domain of politics but it may guide for how to live and think in ‘interesting times’. The exhibition is focused on the work of artists who challenge existing habits of thought and open up the audience to readings of objects and images, gestures and situations. It believes that human happiness depends on substantive conversations and as an exhibition this display should open people’s thoughts to previously unconsidered ways of being in the world.

The Indian trio

Shilpa Gupta’s ‘For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit’ is an immersive installation that addresses the history of censorship through sculpture, audio and text. There are soft disembodied voices chanting in Arabic, Hindi and Russian through microphones suspended in a lanterned grid resembling a dungeon. It tells the stories of conflicts of 100 imprisoned writers across the world.

“It is great that this year the main Venice Biennale has three artists from South Asia which have been well positioned at the start of curators proposition at Arsenale”, said Gupta while talking to Media India Group. The installation which was also at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2018 presents an emotional journey through 100 stories, 100 poems and 100 small gestures of resistance that celebrate the freedom of thought.


Gill’s ‘Becoming’ captures Indian landscape (courtesy: Gauri Gill)

Delhi-based Gauri Gill’s work showcases two sets of photographs – ‘Acts of Appearance’ series which was shown at the Museum of Modern Art last year and new series ‘Becoming’ displayed for the first time. Her ‘Act of Appearance’ features Adivasi papier-mâché artists from Kokna tribe of Maharashtra, who worked on creating masks representing a contemporary reality through the emotions like joy, love, sadness, fear or anger. The masks also explored animals and objects as the tribe believe that objects have sentience too.

Gill’s ‘Becoming’ creates ‘psychological pictures’ of the urban Indian landscape from smaller Indian towns like Lunkaransar, Bikaner and Chandigarh to vast megalopolises like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and others across India. “In this dystopian world, human beings are dislocated from familiar contexts and rendered invisible in their new environments. Nature herself is bent to human will and desire, and new worlds emerge from the underlying capitalist order,” she explains.

Soham Gupta, a photographer from Kolkata is presenting his ‘Angst’ series of mostly monochrome photographs depicting the people living on the street or out late at night. Rugoff had commented on his work that “they are riveting, and avoid every cliché about representing the poor and homeless… he worked with  his subjects as collaborators, asking them to suggest how they’d like to pose, what props, if any, they’d  like to appear with.”  The series was awarded the Cosmos PDF Award 2017 and was also exhibited at Jaipur Photo 2018 and Influences photography festival in Beaucouzé, France. “It feels strange that I am 30 and yet showing work at this Mecca of art. It is an incredible honour,” shared the photographer.

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