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Shilpa Gupta: Sun at Night

Shilpa Gupta, FIYTICF

Opening autumn 2021, Barbican Art Gallery is delighted to present the first major London solo exhibition by Mumbai-based artist Shilpa Gupta. One of South Asia’s most critically acclaimed artists working today, Gupta’s multidisciplinary practice encompasses a wide range of media and processes, from text, sculpture, video, photography, and sound which poetically explores physical and ideological boundaries and how, as individuals, we come to feel a sense of isolation or belonging. Shilpa Gupta’s new commission opens in The Curve on Thursday 7 October 2021.

For the Barbican’s 34th commission for The Curve, Gupta will present and build on her acclaimed project For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit (2017–18) – an immersive multi-channel installation which comprises 100 microphones suspended above 100 metal spikes, each piercing a page inscribed with a fragmented verse of poetry by a poet incarcerated for their work, writings, or beliefs. Including poetry from the 8th to the 21st centuries such as by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Samuel Bamford, Irina Ratushinskaya, and the 14th century Azerbaijani poet Nesimi – whose writing inspired the title of the installation – the soundscape alternates between languages including Arabic, Azeri, Chinese, English, Hindi and Spanish where each microphone utters verses of poetry echoed by a chorus of its ninety-nine counterparts, as if standing together in solidarity. Through each poem, Gupta draws attention to the wider stories and experiences of global histories, and by giving a voice to those who had been silenced, Gupta’s haunting installation highlights the fragility and vulnerability of one’s right to personal expression whilst raising urgent questions of free expression, censorship, confinement, and resistance.

In addition to reconfiguring For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit, for its London premiere in the dramatic arc of The Curve, Gupta presents a new body of work extending on the research and themes present in the installation. This includes the artist’s first pair of motion flapboards which further expand on Gupta’s use of sound, language and the power of speech within her practice. Used historically as departure boards within airports or train stations – Gupta’s boards, via independent utterance, enter an uneasy poetic dialogue with one another, interrogating dynamics of control and circumventions.

Shilpa Gupta said: “When I first walked into the cavernous space of The Curve, it reminded me of a snaking back alley and perhaps even a spine of a curled-up creature. The curator’s proposition to show the sound installation, For, In Your Tongue I Cannot Fit, made sense - to infuse The Curve – with voices and sounds that hover, take risk and persist through the being of our societies.”

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: “I am thrilled that Shilpa Gupta will be staging our latest Curve commission at the Barbican. This will be the first time that there has been a significant showing of her work in London. Gupta is an extraordinary artist working with a hugely experimental and interdisciplinary practice that explores themes of identity, nation borders and notions of power combined with a poetic sensibility.  For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit was shown to great acclaim at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and it always seemed to me that this powerful work would be stunning in the Curve and that it was important for a London audience to be able to experience it.”

Shilpa Gupta (b.1976, Mumbai) lives and works in Mumbai, India, where she studied sculpture at the Sir J.J. School of Fine Arts from 1992 to 1997. Gupta has exhibited work internationally, with solo exhibitions at galleries including M HKA, Antwerp; Voorlinden Museum and Gardens, Wassenaar; YARAT Contemporary Art Center, Baku; Kiosk, Ghent; Bielefelder Kunstverein, Bielefeld; Centre d'art contemporain la synagogue de Delme, Delme; Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo; Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem; Arnolfini, Bristol; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; OK Center for Contemporary Art, Linz; and Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi. In 2015, Gupta presented a two-person joint India-Pakistan exhibition by the Gujral Foundation in Venice and has participated in the Venice Biennale (2019); Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2018); Berlin Biennale (2014); New Museum Triennale (2009); Gwangju Biennale (2008); Yokohama Triennale (2008); and Liverpool Biennial (2006), among others.