Feb 22 2013

Shilpa Gupta Writes Across Night Sky

by Noelle Bodick

SHILPA GUPTA has created the installation “I live under your sky too” in a Mumbai suburb that she and a mixed population of Christians, Muslims and Hindus call home. All photos courtesy the artist.

Nightly, from February 16 to March 9, along the Carter Road promenade in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra, an illuminated sentence, spanning 10-meters, will blink between English, Hindi and Urdu: “I live under your sky too.”

New-media artist Shilpa Gupta has created the lyrical neon installation in the neighborhood that she and a mixed population of Christians, Muslims and Hindus call home. “It is important for me to have the work in Bandra. [I]t has such a rich and varied mix of people from different backgrounds and faiths,” Gupta said in a press release.

In the evenings, local residents snap photos of themselves in front of the shining script, or else sit along the darkening waterfront that just ten years ago was lined with garbage piles, but has since been converted into a public space used as a jogging trail and lovers’ point.

On February 19, Gupta joined a group of casual watchers, her fellow visitors not knowing she was the artist. “The reaction of local people is beautiful,” Gupta wrote in an email interview. She was pleased to hear the viewers discuss the diversity of the migrant city.

It is not the first time that the internationally exhibited artist has created a public project for the community. In 2007, she organized screenings of video art by Indian and international artists, presenting her own interactive projection Shadow 3 (2007).

Gupta is of a young generation of Indian artists today responding to the country’s postcolonial societal divides. Her works frequently draw or erase geopolitical boundaries. In 100 Hand-drawn Maps of India (2007–2008), Gupta asked volunteers to sketch outlines of the country from memory and displayed the incongruous results. In an untitled work from 2005–06, the artist made a flag of yellow police tape reading: “There is no border here.” 

Coincidently, in New York City, another artist, Tracey Emin, is also scrawling words in the sky. Each night in February, for three minutes before midnight, love notes are spelled out across Time Square as if by a giant, invisible hand. The two artists’ public and poetic gestures are written, as Gupta might say, across one sky.

On February 22, the sponsors Creative India and the Bandra West Residents Association will host an opening celebration with the artist. After March 9, the installation will tour the country, with the languages changing to reflect regional dialects. An outdoor version of Gupta’s piece is planned for New York in the coming year along with one for Tokyo’s Mori Museum.