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India through the eyes of six artists

Generations of artists have been inspired by the historical, political, social and geographical diversity of India. Lounge picks six iconic works of contemporary Indian art that amplify powerful ideas

‘Nirbhay’ (2012-13), Atul Dodiya. Photo courtesy: Atul Dodiya
‘Nirbhay’ (2012-13), Atul Dodiya. Photo courtesy: Atul Dodiya

Atul Dodiya

Has Mahatma Gandhi become a token or do we still believe in his tenet of non-violence? Atul Dodiya has raised this question repeatedly in his work. He first created large-scale watercolours, depicting imaginary interactions between Gandhi and the German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, about their shared belief in the power of an individual to enact change. Gandhi then became one of the subjects of his remarkable shutter paintings, which he made after the riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid , when small businesses were closed for fear of religious persecution. “Roller shutters embodied security for small traders, and I decided to use them as canvas," he says.

Subodh Gupta

In the 1970s, stainless-steel utensils first caught the imagination of the Indian middle class. These gleaming vessels, affordably priced, could soon be found across kitchens, yet a majority of Indians didn’t have the resources to put food on these every day. Subodh Gupta has been exploring this paradox by turning these familiar objects into works of art. Very Hungry God, an enormous 1,000kg skull made with stainless-steel utensils, drives home the point with morbid force.

Shilpa Gupta

Using the manipulated found object, video, interactive computer-based installation and performance, Shilpa Gupta relentlessly questions the notions of political and cultural borders. In Altered Inheritances (2012-14), she looks at people who changed their surnames for caste, language, education, even love. “Built from hundreds of registers of names, this set of abstract portraits...captures the doubt, annulments, modifications, or adjustments of an inherited past," she says.

Vivan Sundaram

In Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946, Vivan Sundaram, one of India’s most politically-driven artists, created a container/ship for an immersive sound installation to engage with a bit of lesser-known history—in February 1946, members of the Royal Indian Navy had rebelled against British officers. “Though his work has an element of the disjunctive, and often deals with death, I believe it also creates a conversation about the way forward—the urgent need to heal and mend," says Roobina Karode, director and chief curator, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

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