Guftagoo with Manav Gupta

by Tushar Mishra
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Contemporary artist, Manav Gupta is famous for his five floor high 11500 ft staircase mega mural at the Airtel Centre, H.Q. campus. He is also an awardee of Sanatan Puraskar of Fine Arts by the French Ambassador to India and works on raising consciousness about environment by fusing different art forms together. We caught up with him at IGNCA in New Delhi where his art exhibit, titled, Arth – Art for Earth – The Excavated Museum of Clay is being showcased. The project was inaugurated on World Environment Day.

When I paint, what transcends on the canvas is hope;

And the power of the eternal truths of nature’s emblematic symbols…”

You have always followed your own journey. How do you define your style and how has it evolved over the years?
I have always been influenced by nature and I consider it my laboratory. My style is derived from nature, whether it’s paintings, sculptures or installations that I am currently doing.
Nature is free flowing and so is my art. I like to constantly innovate and try to create what has not been attempted before. Even vis a vis watercolors and paints, my favourite mediums, since I did not want to take forward the grammar I had learnt, I evolved my own style. For installations too, I have tried to create something which is intrinsic in its quality and something which has not been explored before. Hence, I turned pottery into large garden installation.

As an artist who is famous for his murals and thoughtful installations, please share with our readers about your collaborations and message behind them.
I have never made a conscious attempt to deliver a message that is crafted; I deliver what is natural and organic in evolution. So, when I started doing installations, it was a natural evolution from the way I explored rivers and rainforests in my paintings. I always feel we can contribute towards environment while we are doing what we are doing. We can act as a conduit for nature because that is what sustains us and that is our true wealth. We must embrace nature and architecture because we are all dust and clay. Hence, we must follow a sustainable model of living which was practiced by ancient civilizations. Therefore, I call it ‘Excavations of hymns and clays’, because I excavate the philosophy of Vedic literature and take it into the contemporary art form.
How did this collaboration come about? When did you first think of the concept and how has it evolved into how we see it here today.
Arth as a movement started two decades ago when I was practicing collaborative interventions and making it inclusive by involving audiences, policy makers, school children and people from walks of life.
In my Airtel HQ mural, I could have painted alone and finished the project, but I thought it would be great to involve the employees of the organization and create an artwork which made sense to me as an artist and to the viewer as an artist. Collaborations have a meaningful identity and cannot be done for the sake of it. The collaborations must be intelligently panned out, should resonate the spirit of the artwork and make sense to all.

Does this bring any change?
Definitely, it does. If you look at my first work of this project, which started in 2013 in South Africa (it was hosted by National Museum and Indian Embassy), it was found to be greatly relevant and automatically became an extension of the BRICS summit that was being held there at the same time.
Afterwards people of Cape Town saw it and took it with them to their city. This happened because of public involvement which itself is a change. We undermine public intelligence, but if you give them something to reflect on, they would get involved naturally.
This generation is talking a lot more about saving this planet and you as an artist are making a huge effort to spread awareness. Is there anything that you would like to suggest to public that could bring about change?
I am an artist so my work and practice is my message. While creating art, I am also talking about environment and that becomes my message. Similarly, you as a journalist are talking about environment through this art-project and reaching out to people. Each one of us can make a contribution while doing what we have to do. You can make a difference wherever you are by being inclusive.

You are known for your ‘jugalbandi’ and you do it with such playfulness and comfort. Do you practice before performing it live?
Jugalbandi is very instant. I am completely hands on with my art. I roll my sleeves up and get rolling! This is how I build my art. I don’t practice or rehearse, I just go live!
What mantras can you give to budding artists?
It takes a lifetime to each achieve overnight success.

    1. There are no shortcuts; you got to practice every day. As Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”. The more you practice, the more you get to learn about your process.
    2. Learning can never stop for anyone no matter how old or experience one may get in their field. Never undermine the value of learning. Even Einstein said, “I have only gathered shells from the sea shore of knowledge”.
    3. Be curious, retain the child in you!

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