Puzzling painting

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Apr 14 2019


Category: Asia, India

1 Comment

Focal Length:15.26mm
Shutter:1/0 sec

Not just a painting, a whole installation! A little paper on the wall is telling us: “Restore Icons: 1799, a Chassis from Paris Iconising Dalits and Blacks.” We know that the artist, Prabir Gupta, was born, lives and works in Kolkatta (Calcutta) and that he is influenced by the political activism in his home state West-Bengal. Well then. Do the indications “1799” and “Paris” on the title card refer to the French Revolution? It could be, although I wouldn’t know what the chassis hanging in front of the painting has to do with it. The painting itself, with its lavish use of acrylic paints, could be an evocation of the chaos of revolution.

The panels fixed at the top of the painting resemble the icons of saints in – orthodox – Christianity. I do not know the persons portrayed but I presume they may be contemporary Dalits that have fallen in the struggle for Dalit emancipation and equality in Bengal (or India). The title card speaks of Dalits and Blacks. Again, I am not sure to whom the word ‘Blacks’ refers in the Indian context or in the context of the painting. Maybe the tribal population? They often are darker than the Indians of Aryan origin, and as discriminated by them as the Dalits are. The painting seems unfinished; there is still space for more icon panels at the top. The emancipatory struggle of the Dalits is far from over yet.

And then there is the image of Mother Teresa, whose frightfully furrowed face must have terrified many a poor child in Kolkatta when taken by her in her arms. Interestingly, unlike the iconic faces at the top which all have a saintly halo around their heads, she has not. The face of the freshly declared saint is instead shown behind iron bars.

Future art historians will have a hard nut to break when trying to interpret Gupta’s Restore Icons installation!

Photos of the week: Prabir Gupta, Restore Icons: 1799, a Chassis from Paris Iconising Dalits and Blacks, 9×12 feet, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, Kerala, India

One comment on “Puzzling painting”

  1. […] TKM Warehouse, the Kochi Biennale venue where I had just seen Prabir Gupta’s installation (see last week’s post), I thought of the roadside painter’s shack in front of the warehouse. Two years ago it was […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: