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Contemporary Artists and Contemporary Articles: 4 Indian Artists Using Unconventional Materials – Part II

In the vibrant and diverse world of contemporary Indian art, innovation and creativity flourish as artists push the boundaries of traditional mediums. In the first part of this series, we explored the works of pioneering Indian artists who employed unconventional materials to craft their masterpieces. Continuing this journey, we now delve deeper into the Indian art scene to highlight six more visionary artists. From human bones and hair to seeds and roots, these artists use it all. Through their breathtaking art pieces, they challenge our perceptions of art and offer fresh perspectives on contemporary issues.

Anita Dube

Anita Dube is known for her poignant use of discarded materials to explore themes of memory, loss, and mortality. Her installations often incorporate unconventional elements such as bones, archival photographs, and industrial waste, weaving narratives that delve into personal and collective histories.

Silence (Blood Wedding), Anita Dube (image source:artsandculture.google)

In her installation “Silence (Blood Wedding),” created during a period of personal turmoil, Dube employs real human bones as the armature, delicately sheathed in deep red velvet and meticulously embellished with beads and lace. Each bone, presented within a plexiglass case, radiates a haunting beauty that simultaneously challenges and embraces mortality. This poignant use of materials not only invites contemplation on the fragility of life but also questions societal perceptions of cultural relics and the ethical implications of artistic representation.

Subodh Gupta

Subodh Gupta, often dubbed the “Damien Hirst of Delhi,” is renowned for using everyday objects, particularly stainless steel items, to reflect the paradoxes of modern Indian life. His work blends tradition with the rapidly evolving urban landscape.

VERY HUNGRY GOD, 2006, Subodh Gupta (image source: https://lesoeuvres.pinaultcollection.com/en/artwork/very-hungry-god)

One of his most famous pieces, “Very Hungry God,” is a massive skull constructed entirely from stainless steel utensils. This piece symbolises the abundance and disparity within Indian society, using common kitchen items to convey deep socio-economic messages. By transforming these ubiquitous objects into powerful symbols, Gupta’s art comments on globalisation, migration, and the intersection of rural and urban life. His work highlights the contrasts and connections between these realms, making a profound statement on contemporary society.

Amar Kanwar

Amar Kanwar is a renowned filmmaker celebrated for his immersive installations addressing socio-political issues. His artworks often incorporate unconventional materials such as grains, textiles, and archival documents, creating multisensory experiences that deeply resonate with viewers.

Amar Kanwar – The Scene of the Crime, 2010
Installation view: Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest, TBA21, Vienna, 2014 (image source: Amar Kanwar – The Sovereign Forest November 23, 2013–March 23, 2014 | TBA21–Augarten, Vienna)

In his seminal work “The Sovereign Forest,” Kanwar blends video projections with organic materials like seeds and roots to explore themes of ecological sustainability and indigenous rights. This installation invites contemplation on land, justice, and memory, offering a poignant commentary on contemporary global challenges. Kanwar’s innovative use of materials enhances the impact of his narrative, engaging viewers in a dialogue about the intersection of nature, culture, and politics.

Jitish Kallat

Jitish Kallat explores themes of urban life, globalisation, and historical legacies through his multimedia artworks. Kallat’s artworks often feature unconventional materials such as mirrors, dental plaster and LED lights, merging the personal and political in profound ways.

Public Notice 2, 2007, Resin, Jitish Kallat (image source: https://jitishkallat.com/works/public-notice-2/)

Kallat recreates this historic speech as a ‘Public Notice,’ a monumental installation where Gandhi’s words are meticulously reproduced letter by letter with simulated resin bones – 4,479 to be exact. These bones evoke archaeological relics or sacred remnants, starkly contrasting Gandhi’s call for non-violence with reminders of human conflict and suffering. The installation prompts reflection on historical promises, rights, and responsibilities, resonating with contemporary issues of justice and memory in India.

Indu Antony

Indu Antony’s art practice is renowned for its intimate and innovative use of unconventional materials, most notably her own hair. Antony collects her hair and uses it as a medium for embroidery, transforming this personal and often overlooked material into a powerful tool for storytelling. By stitching with hair, she explores themes of memory, identity, and trauma, turning an element traditionally associated with femininity and beauty into one that conveys deep emotional and social commentary​​.

“Names They Called” by Indu Antony (image source: https://www.induantony.com/works-on-paper)

One of Antony’s notable works, “Names They Called”, exemplifies her unique approach. In this series, she uses her hair to embroider derogatory terms often directed at women in Malayalam. Each word is meticulously stitched onto fabric, paper, or other surfaces, creating a stark and visceral representation of verbal abuse. The tactile nature of the hair, combined with the repetitive act of embroidery, transforms these insults into a form of cathartic expression and resistance. Antony’s use of her own hair adds a deeply personal dimension to the work, making the viewer confront the physical and emotional weight of these societal prejudices​.

Gauri Gill

Gauri Gill’s art is distinguished by her innovative integration of unconventional materials, particularly those that resonate with cultural and social narratives. Her practice often includes the use of traditional crafts and found objects, which she combines with her photographs to create multi-dimensional works. Gill’s approach not only documents marginalised communities but also collaborates with them, bringing their crafts and voices into contemporary art contexts​.

Acts of Appearance (2015 – ongoing) by Gauri Gill Untitled (27) Archival pigment print, 42 x 28 inches (image source: Works)

In her project “Acts of Appearance”, Gill collaborates with the Adivasi communities of Maharashtra, using their traditional papier-mâché masks. These masks, typically used in local festivals and rituals, are crafted by community artisans and photographed in various contemporary settings. By juxtaposing these masks with modern environments, Gill creates a dialogue between tradition and modernity, highlighting the cultural resilience and ongoing struggles of the Adivasi people. The masks, made from paper and natural dyes, serve as a powerful visual and symbolic element, emphasising the importance of cultural heritage and the impact of modernization on indigenous practices​​.

Conclusion

These artists demonstrate that the choice of material is as critical as the message itself in contemporary art. Their innovative use of materials to provoke thought and dialogue on pressing social, political, and cultural issues, while also pushing the boundaries of artistic practice and offering new ways of understanding and engaging with the world. Their works are a testament to the power of art to inspire change and reflect the complexities of modern life. As we continue to explore the vibrant world of contemporary Indian art, these artists remind us of the endless possibilities that lie in creativity and innovation.

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