He is the next big thing in art, an Outlook magazine article says. Times of India calls him one of India’s most erudite and versatile contemporary artists. His works have been featured in the Bible of art, Blouin Art Info. With four entries in Limca Book of Records, he is listed by Financial Times as one of the ten contemporary artists from India whose works will fetch good returns. This, even as BBC hails his latest project.
Widely exhibited around the globe, with works sold by Christie’s, Bonham’s and Philip de Pury, artist Manav Gupta, however, is yet to get his due on home turf, which happens to be Noida. Never been felicitated, honoured or acknowledged in the city, Noida probably isn't even aware of his presence.
There may be reasons for this. For one, he has never displayed his works in the city. "I never got the opportunity. Besides, I travel a lot," he says. He is also not very sure if Noida residents would appreciate his works.
With his latest installation art exhibition titled Travelling Museum in a Mall in Sector 18's Mall of India, he has made his mark in the city where he has been living for more than a decade. If you are a mall crawler, you must have noticed or may have been intrigued by his clay art installations, made of objects such as the earthen lamps (diyas), local cigars (chilam) and earthen cups (kullar). Scattered across five spots in the mall, the creations talk about sustainable living.
But why such avant-garde work in a mall and not in an art gallery?
First, the artist says, Noida doesn't have any art galleries. Nor does it have large art hubs such as Delhi's India Habitat Centre. Besides, displaying art in a mall has its own advantages. "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," says the artist, whose works include the Indo-Bhutan friendship mural in Bhutan.
A mall attracts all kinds of people, not necessarily the art-loving type. "Don't underestimate the common man's intellect," he says, citing the example of shoppers who were impressed enough to be taking selfies with his works. "That's encouraging," he says. His installations are also large-scale and need large spaces to display, which a mall provides.
But then he has a more significant reason for the choice of the venue. "My hand-crafted clay art stands in stark contrast to the manufactured and branded goods sold in malls. I am trying to say, don't ape the Western world when India offers so much in terms of eco-friendly living," says Gupta, who was personally invited by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to be the artist-in-residence at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. He wants to remind people about the philosophy of Indian scriptures that promote organic living.
Going by the huge response from shoppers, Noida residents mostly, his message seems to have been driven home. In fact, on popular demand, the exhibition has been extended till this weekend. Why not check it out?
There are five of these works that punctuate the mall space, variously named The River Waterfront, The Time Machine, The Noah’s Arc, The Beehive Garden Project, and so on — each a loud statement on the virtues of going back to nature. "If we keep tampering with the world, we will be headed towards disaster," the artist warns through his works.
Now that he has made his mark in Noida, will the city see more of his works here? He hopes so. "If Noida Authority supports me, I would love to beautify the city with my installations, especially in places such as the DND Flyway or Sector 18," he says.
Gupta agrees that Noida, unlike Gurgaon, has been slow in waking up to art. It is a city that doesn't inspire really either via art or via architecture. "Can you see any heritage buildings here?" he asks. But he is happy he is pioneering an effort that might turn the city into an art-loving one. After all, the city has one big advantage that Gurgaon doesn't: Large, open spaces such as parks.
Living with his Pranic healer wife in his Kailash Dham apartment, this father of two who refuses to reveal his age with a "never kill the child in you" line, does contribute to RWA activities, especially during the Sector 50 Durga Puja, when he gets involved in designing invites and decorating the pandal. No, none of his installation art finds space in his residential complex — it is expensive business — but he loves mentoring the kids of the society. "I guide them to do their own projects," he says.
Yes, he hopes to do a lot more for Noida, but then he needs support from residents. Anybody listening?
TAGS: Mall of India / Manav Gupta / Kailash Dham / Sector 50 Noida / Noida / The River Waterfront / The Time Machine / The Noah’s Arc / The Beehive Garden Project / India Habitat Centre / Clay art / eco friendly living / organic art