Art pick: Subodh Gupta at Monnaie de Paris

Following an ambitious six-year renovation, the Monnaie de Paris (France’s national mint) reopened last year in its new incarnation of a culture and heritage centre. Located on the banks of the River Seine, its galleries are dedicated to metalwork and artisanal craftsmanship – a fitting site for New Delhi-based artist Subodh Gupta’s work in materials like tin, steel, bronze and brass.

Gupta uses mass-produced household items such as lunch boxes, tin cans, bicycles, and milk pails – everyday objects that are ubiquitous across India. The banal, precarious nature of these objects contrast with the weighty, universal issues (like migration, poverty and the cosmos) that Gupta evokes from them – a dichotomy that mirrors the ambivalence found in a society, like India’s, caught between opposing forces such as tradition and globalisation, wealth and poverty.

The everyday objects featured in the exhibition – such as cooking utensils – can be seen a common denominator uniting people across the various economic divisions of the India’s population. Nonetheless, the ubiquity of shiny stainless steel tableware is accompanied in Gupta’s work by the equally widespread struggle for parts of the population to fill these containers with food and water.

In the opening section of the show in Paris, we see works such as Unknown Treasure (2017), in which found objects are seen to pour from an enlarged bronze handi (a traditional Indian kitchen pot), and Jutha (2005), in which sinks full of used dishes nod to issues of cleanliness and purity in food culture.

Highlight exhibits that follow include Very Hungry God (2006), a giant skull made of hundreds of stainless steel utensils, with which Subodh combines an image of alluring excess with one of crippling starvation, and There Is Always Cinema (2008), which features bronze and brass replicas of film equipment such as projectors, film reels and trolleys, exploring the function of everyday objects as vehicles for identity and memory.

There Is Always Cinema (I), 2008

Themes of travel and exile are explored in works like the split-screen video All Things Are Inside (2007), in which Indian migrant labourers in the Middle East survey and pack their meagre personal belongings as they prepare to return home to their families, while pieces like Seven Billion Light Years (2015 – 2016) and Anahad (Unstruck) (2016) figure food as an allegory for the universe and cosmos.