‘I want to make art available to all’
One of India’s most erudite and versatile contemporary artists, Manav Gupta has pioneered collaborative art as performances and mega murals.
One of India’s most erudite and versatile contemporary artists,Manav Gupta has pioneered collaborative art as performances and mega murals. In the 20th year of his profession, he presents the ‘Waterfront’ project for art lovers in Delhi-NCR. He talks to Medha Dutta about using the humble diya, chilam, and kulhar to create large-scale avant-garde works.
The desire to create something intrinsic, which has not been created earlier, keeps me going. And that is how my journey has shaped up. We have grown up with clay, pottery, and diyas—you pick them up from a roadside shop, fill them with oil and light them, and at that moment they become sacred, a part of your prayers. After that you throw them. This whole dichotomy of context and perception has stayed with me. I inverted the diya and made it into a droplet of water, and then started playing with it.
What influenced your art the most?
Because I grew up in the lap of nature in Kolkata, nature has influenced my work a lot. And when you talk of nature, you talk of sustainability. I was driven by the fact that no one had done such installations using pottery, and also I could talk about nature in a different manner. I could do large engagement with people—that drove me too. My art is participative.
How did you start?
I started in South Africa. There I found the general public, curators, school and college students, absorbing my art. They were so curious about the installations. And this egged me on. Water and all five elements of nature are our source of sustenance. Ancient civilisations from India to the world over respected and understood this sanctity. Be it our sacred Ganga or the Mississippi. As we grow, we excavate the ancient philosophy of sustainable living. And we are all clay. Dust to dust. My art seeks to submit to this paradigm.
Why not showcase in museums and galleries?
We don’t have much public art in India to boast of. I don’t want to create works that are elitist by nature to be showcased to a select few connoisseurs. I want my art to be public. I want to take art out of museums and gallery spaces and make it available to everybody. Let them bring in their own understanding. And it was so satisfying to see common people relate to my works.
Do we in India encourage young minds to be interested in art?
I find that we undermine public intelligence and awareness. If you expose the common people to art, they are very receptive. It’s just that the exposure is lacking. If the platform is open to them, they are very willing.
Tell us about your famous waterfront project.
I got government, corporate, different art forms conglomerating at the waterfront. My waterfronts are not quiet. They are bedrock of activities. I’ve had dancers, musicians, dialogues, coming and engaging at the waterfront. It’s like a knowledge repository.
How can sustainability be taken forward?
There has to be a support from media, the corporate and government sectors.
One artist he would like to bring back
If he had not been an artist, he would be...
Formula 1 racer
The Waterfront Project
Manav explores the essence of the Vedic practices to subtly bring to light the repository of solutions that the ancient way of life could offer in today’s context of sustainable development and current issues around rivers like the Ganga. The pollution of the rivers, the shrinking of water and its availability and such other climate change issues have been in the artist’s ethos of work since beginning.