The process-driven Kanchana Gupta has devoted her art career to the narrative potential of materials. The sheer tactility they possess, as well as the cultural codes they’re predetermined to contain. Then and only then, does Gupta consider what it might mean to subject these objects to her artistic (and laborious) process. An earlier exhibition, Identity-II, highlights red vermillion as one such marker of identity. As a powder, it is recognized in India as sindoor, applied at the parting of a bride’s hair to signify her marital status.
Gupta has come a long way since. 458.32 Square Meters sees her experimenting with quotidian materials—those for construction: jute, tarpaulin—as an investigation toward her placemaking within the urban environment and in respect to her migrant identity. In Gupta’s arduous art-making process, after burning, peeling, and whatever else more, it’s the compressed outcome in her unique artworks that cap what may be the closest expression of Gupta herself. An identity we could only describe through approximation, embattled with and forged by grand narratives and those specific to the liminal space she occupies.
“Each work leads to a series of investigations, and each series becomes the foundation for the next,” writes Gupta in her artist statement, and it shows. It’s not a stretch to think there’s an underlying narrative in Gupta’s “oeuvre.” After all, it’s a philosophy of accretion of sorts that defines Gupta’s practice. Determining what, exactly, goes into that may just as well have been the secret challenge the 458.32 Square Meters official catalogue endeavored to take on.
The 458.32 Square Meters catalogue is a sterling piece of work and has recently been released for online reading. In its brave attempt to chart Gupta’s artistic development, it taps into the relentlessly inclusive logic behind Gupta’s compressions. You can’t talk about one facet without considering the rest. Beginning with Gupta’s Artist Statement, the catalogue then dives straight into a riveting interview between her and art writer, Elaine Chew. Despite how interview formats tend to be tangential, Elaine Chew does a remarkable job probing into Gupta’s artistic trajectory.
“Trajectory” is the word: a movement from one place to the next, without a promise of return without some internal reckoning that renders origins moot. This is no better explained than in the critical essay by curator Savita Apte that appears before the Gupta's art display. Entitled “458.32 Square Meters: Frayed, Fragmented, and Fabricated,” it provides such a succinct, robust theoretical backdrop for someone to critically understand the internal and external drives and factors that make Gupta the individual she is. With such finesse, too.
As Apte concludes, “[Gupta] parses her movement away from the comfortable confines of joint families to the amplified anxieties of nuclear families, from the constrictions and convictions that define small-town living to the anonymities and uncertainties of megapolises, from the homeland to the land that she now considers to be her home.“