A universe of meaning
In a 2019 work titled Pieces Earth Left Behind, Sudarshan Shetty displayed 99 pieces of wooden sculptures, each modeled on an object that he found in Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar, a place where old, disused items find a new lease of life.Updated: Sep 06, 2020 13:03 IST
Pots, pans, shoes, rolled-up bedding, a metallic box, a gunny sack: these are the meagre possessions that speak to us of a family’s life. It is easy to assume that the family in question is poor, and that these possessions have been abandoned in haste, but that’s not all that artist Sudarshan Shetty would want you to think about.
In a 2019 work titled Pieces Earth Left Behind, Shetty displayed 99 pieces of wooden sculptures, each modeled on an object that he found in Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar, a place where old, disused items find a new lease of life. Not only were those objects discards (a meat grinder, a pair of worn out canvas shoes), many were things that were no longer available (a Steenbeck flatbed film editor, for instance). By further rendering them into wooden sculptures, Shetty turned these functionless objects into simulations, almost devoid of any original meaning. The viewer was free to make of it what they willed.
Standing 7 feet tall, this new work is carved out of re-used wood that has been collected from various dismantled structures in and around Mumbai. It too, makes references to household objects. And like his 2019 work, it too offers no easy interpretation. “While this piece may open up a space for multiple stories of the imaginary person in question, it may also evoke a sense of a foreboding absence. The material reality of the piece makes it referential to a perceived real situation. It is, however, fictionalised,” Shetty said.
Of course, the immediate connection one would make is with migrant workers who left the city soon after the national lockdown was imposed on March 25, as their work and earnings dried up. But Shetty also wants the viewer to take a pause and ask other questions — what makes us gather objects, for instance; what do we choose to discard, and keep.
If the pandemic has made us examine our interdependence as a community — simultaneously vectors and victims of a virus — it has also led some to relook at material possession all together. In many ways Shetty’s work does that too. He uses material to take the viewer outside the art work and relook at the function of objects anew. “It is telling a story that is outside of itself,” Shetty said.
In his 2017 work Shoonya Ghar —comprising large-scale wooden installations and a multi-channel video work —Shetty read nirgun poetry of Gorakhnath and Kabir, and found it intriguing how couplets from a tradition that flourished nearly 900 years ago posited opposing ideas to make a larger, composite point. It’s an approach that he brings to his other works, as well. His pieces — found, sculptural, constructed — open up a universe of meaning.
Sudarshan Shetty is a contemporary artist whose sculptural works are part of several important collections, in India and globally. He was the curator of the 2016 edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.