In this interview, Neeraj Gupta talks about ‘City Scape’ and the creative vision behind it, as well as the process involved in its installation and the relevance of Pragati Maidan for showcasing public art in today’s times.
After alluring the entire city with his monumental installation ‘Heaven and Earth’ consisting of an elephant with pots, made of copper and bronze, as part of ‘iSculpt 3’ at the India International Centre, Neeraj Gupta is back with an artwork titled ‘City Scape,’ which forms an extended part of the tunnel network at Pragati Maidan recently inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Gupta is a public art specialist who has won numerous prestigious national and international awards, including the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award, Best Sculptor Award at 77th Annual Art Exhibition of AIFACS in 2005 and Lorenzo il Magnifico Silver Medal at the Florence Biennale 2017. Gupta is currently the President Delhi Art Society.
In this interview, Neeraj Gupta talks about ‘City Scape’ and the creative vision behind it as well as the process involved in its installation, the relevance of Pragati Maidan for showcasing public art in today’s times, and the impact of the pandemic on the art scene.
Q. Tell us about ‘City Scape’. Also tells us about the creative vision behind your installation.
A. I like to see ‘City Scape’ as a journey of evolution. The basic idea is to depict an equitable and sustainable pattern of development in the ambivalent tension between ethics and aesthetics of the urban contexts, mediated by the system of knowledge needed to create the smart cities. So, it can really be looked upon as evolution from the Stone Age to the Mechanical Age.
Works of art in public places are the magnets that may hold the public space together. Work of art at public places should represent the relentless spiral of the energies of the people. Given this, how important then it is that the city be rich with those signs and symbols that rise above divisions, partisan passions, or in abject materialism to some higher vision? A good city is a secular space on one plane, on another it can also breed mankind’s detached longing. And in such public spaces great sculpture may do that provided these are fired by the deepest perception, steeped in fresh, animating forms. Thus, the secular space is not merely mundane, but could be tinged with the boundless feelings and no narrow dogmas. Such and similar expressive yearnings give moments of liberation. The public space with which a passerby will identify has to be tinged with some true beauty, which is another name of divinity.
To sum up, one could say that men usually yearn to transcend the merely finite and the passing, and to participate in something mysterious and shared, called culture; that this yearning is as strong in our species as the yearning to re produce the species. Through our many local or regional or individual voices, we artists work to create art that will speak to our fellows, who know nothing of us. And despite our apparent foreignness to one another an unexpected intimacy is born. This is how notwithstanding the individual and regional voices, universal cities do come into being.
Q. How long did it take you to come up with the installation?
A. The total duration includes the time from sketch to Marquette to the final sculpture. And there were different stages involved. But the in all we can say more than 6 months.
Q. Could you please touch upon the materials used and the process involved in the creation of the artwork?
A. Material used is Black Marble found in Baisalana in the vicinity of Makrana. The process involved is stage wise.
The first stage involves coming up with a rough sketch so as to put the vision on the paper. The second stages involve the putting of the idea into a concrete form with the preparation of Macquatte. The third stage involves the selection of a suitable marble block for the sculpture. In the fourth stage, the marble block is carved by removing the excess marble. The fifth and final stage involves polishing and finishing.
Q. How do you look at the relevance of Pragati Maidan for showcasing public art in today’s times?
A. It is one of the most important places in Delhi. A huge number of people travel on this stretch for a number of reasons and we can expect the number to go up considerably once the Pragati Maidan redevelopment work is fully completed. So anything placed at a prominent place on this stretch will definitely make an impact.
Q. What are your thoughts on Prime Minister Modi’s remarks about making students and diplomats explore the artworks created as part of the tunnel network at Pragati Maidan?
A. I think PM Modi’s remarks are visionary in many contexts. As far as diplomats are concerned, these artworks will enhance the reputation of country in diplomatic circles as well as abroad as they will be able to see the creativity of Indian artists at its best.
As far as students are concerned, there will be definite positive impact on their thought process and probably they will imbibe art and culture in their minds. PM Modi’s new education policy also puts a lot of emphasis on art and culture and is a big step forward towards the revival of the Indian art and culture scene. I think PM Modi’s remarks reflect his grand vision towards the promotion of Indian arts.
Q. How do you look at the impact of the pandemic on the art scene? What according to you is the way forward?
A. The pandemic has shed light on our economic, social, and political systems. And the arts which are largely considered a luxury have been greatly impacted. The deaths of a number of senior artists have dealt a big blow mentally apart from other factors.
The values we support today will determine what we have when this is over. So the government and the private sector need to do a lot to revive the dormant scene. Art helps to quickly communicate ideas through memorable visuals. Public art can be used as a directive tool in a crisis to benefit our general well-being. Art guides and signals how people should interact and behave within a space. Visual cues help us understand how we fit into space and make statements about what a community values.