Subodh Gupta (b. 1964)
- Subodh Gupta
- One Cow
- Signed and dated 'SUBODH GUPTA/ 2003/9/' on reverse
- Oil on canvas
With his radical invocation of the cow in painting and sculpture, Subodh Gupta visually sets forth the rural to urban, local to global dialogue that dominates 21st-century thinking about the art of India. Cow (2003) is an outstanding example. Prior to 2003, Gupta's paintings and sculptures of cows were recognizable as the sacred bovines that have wandered the streets of India for centuries, as both providers of sustenance and living objects of veneration. But now, in the big cities of India, cows are herded and penned. Milk is delivered by bicycle-riding doodhwallahs (milkmen). "The bicycle is like a mechanized cow in the city," explains Gupta. "In the country if I wanted milk, I would go to the cows to get it; in the city it is delivered to you by bicycle." (ArtNews, September 2007)
Gupta calls his bicycles cows, acknowledging the irony of cow's milk being delivered without the presence of a cow. Bicycles provide urban access to fresh warm milk carried in their galvanized metal udders. In this painting, Cow (2003), Gupta has not only isolated the bicycle, but also removed it from the bustle of city streets and traffic. With shadows indicating mid-day sun, this "cow" is parked on a dusty, unpaved road in front of backdrop of muted dark greenery. The foliage serves as counterpoint—contrasting the mechanized cow's urban purpose with the bucolic source of its cargo.
Through his re-consecration of the cow as a stand-alone icon — idol and art — Gupta has transported it in paint and metal from a local to a globally revered object (both four-legged and two-wheeled), and at the same time has opened wider the dialogue about mobility—from rural to urban, from local to global—as it is manifest in the art world.
The doodhwallah's bicycle is immediately recognizable to any urban Indian. It is not an invented fantasy, but rather an everyday object, like so many that Gupta has transformed into art: stainless steel kitchen utensils, milk cans, cow dung cakes, suitcases, packages, trolleys, even taxis. He has found the diurnal existence of India symbolically embodied, in the cow particularly, and has dignified — even glorified — these quotidien symbols of rural India though their placement in 21st century venues of cultural worship, art galleries and museums. (Betty Seid, Curator and Independent scholar, 2008).
A related painting by the artist, titled "Three Cows" is in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.