South Indian art
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Subha Ghosh    |    Billboards and Street Life    |    9th Nov - 3rd Dec  2011

Indar Pasricha Contemporary & Ben Hanly are delighted to present for the first time in London the work of New Delhi based artist Subba Ghosh.

Like many Indian artists of his generation Ghosh’s work is heavily influenced by contemporary social realities and street life. In particular his work appropriates the distinctly Indian art form of hand-painted billboard hoardings, which until the advent of cheap commercial printing were widely used throughout India in advertising and political campaigns. Ghosh subverts this familiar format by depicting not the Politicians, Bollywood stars or Western consumer brands which are normally shown, but rather depicting portraits of the poor and ordinary people from the streets. By doing so he aims to force the viewer to acknowledge the very people whom they routinely ignored in everyday life. 

Ghosh is fascinated by the huge scale of these billboards and how they seem to visually transform those depicted into something larger than life, into almost God-like beings - the use of scale metaphorically mirroring and enforcing existing social and class divides. In this context, when the artist chooses to substitute portraits of the poor for the rich and powerful, he is deliberately choosing to show them elevated to a similar status. A controversial stance in an India still beset by massive social inequality.

The artist’s use of the cut-out is also highly significant as it enables him to produce hyper-realistic representations of his sitters. It also gives the artist the ability to dislocate these sitters from their original location and environment. This results in the visual and conceptional juxtaposition of seeing the poor of India standing in stark gallery environments or in the elegance of rich collectors’ houses – both places where they could never normally hope to gain admittance. Once again the artist provokes the viewer into acknowledging the underbelly of Indian society.

Subba Ghosh was born in New Delhi in 1961. He gained his BA and MA at the College of Art, New Delhi and later studied Fine Art at the Surikov Institute of Fine Art, Moscow. In 1996 he completed a second MA in Fine Art at the Slade School of Art. He has exhibited extensively throughout India and internationally. His work can be seen in many public and private collections including the National Gallery of Modern Art, India and GlaxoSmithKline.

For further images or to arrange an interview with the artist please contact:

BEN HANLY – 07584 429 425;


Artist's Statement:

Click for a larger imageThere is a certain relationship of my present work and the urban Indian art of billboard painting. Although due to the advent of cheap large scale technology the art of hand painted hoardings have almost died out but in a few pockets in cities like Chennai, Mumbai and smaller Indian towns and mofussils. My work, for quite some time, has found inspiration in forms of street life and advertisements, like cut out figures and billboard hoardings. The cutout figure like the famous Air India Maharaja or the Kodak cutouts at the Kodak shops created a kind of dislocation of reality for me. But it was not a complete alienation but a reconnection with reality at a different level. The cutout has become a vehicle for me to transport populations to different localities and diverse societies. It also helps me to look at the social fabric today. After all what is our social structure? What relationships are we building up within our society ?  I do not believe in concrete structures like the state and religion. They are both artificial entities. In reality there are no marked boundaries it is a palimpsest. Perhaps  it is on the fluid borders of these categories and moving populations, with their aspirations and expectations and desires, that I want to place my figures in, not just as witnesses,  but as infiltrators. They represent the other of our society. A dislocation within which we live.

The billboards for me always had a fascination in the arbitrariness of their composition and the place they have found in embodying a political message within our consciousness. The emancipation of composition from known notions of artistic composition is refreshing. Scale is because of the importance of the protagonist within the narrative of the picture or in the social context they are situated in and not in any perspective  logic. I have been fascinated by the political implications of scale in our social thinking and its physical manifestations. It is a reiteration of social importance that these large hoardings turn the persons represented into
 mythical personae. What happens if that very idea of the scale is subverted? If surreptitiously, we replace the mythological personality by a very ordinary person. Does he or she acquire a mythical status? Is the class structure that these billboards seem to reflect subverted? The undermining of the consciousness that accepts the scale as the preserve of an elite presence can be infiltrated and subverted by this presence.

The other aspect that I find myself looking at is the grand gesture for a grand narrative. This is where I find the art of billboard painting crossing over into the grand narrative of renaissance painting. The monumental vision of Titian, Michelangelo, Masaccio and Durer find echoes in many of the huge hand painted billboards that are of course fast disappearing. In my work I am trying to locate myself in that fold of the grand gesture of the renaissance painting and Indian billboard painter. Even within the significant cultural and ideological differences, there are moments of overlaps, crossing of paths, which is where I believe that the wonder of the world is located and I want to be there.

Subha Ghosh 2008



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