Las Cruces-based artist Sharbani Das Gupta is an observer of the earth’s elements and the impact of human activity on the natural world.
Ceramicist and installation artist Sharbani Das Gupta finds her roots and “place” at a most fundamental level—within the natural world itself. At the fulcrum of all of her work is the earth, its elements, and its processes. A passionate examiner of Earth and its human residents, Das Gupta has centered her career on explorations of earth’s elements and the impact of human activity upon nature’s dynamics. In concept and practice, the artist constantly observes the world with a bird’s-eye view, the big picture always in mind.
Das Gupta’s portfolio reveals that her interests are broad, her curiosity spanning mechanical, architectural, scientific, and cultural constructs. A visit to her Las Cruces, New Mexico studio provides a picture of her multi-faceted inquisitiveness. The studio and its surroundings are adorned with specimens and found objects such as rocks and gems, organic materials, metals, and reclaimed brick. These pieces and parts will inform, and often embody, finished works.
Touring the studio, Das Gupta speaks of her current interest in cymatics, the study of sound and vibration made visible. A demonstration of seeds vibrating on a Chladni plate (a plate designed to vibrate at differing rates stimulated by frequency) yields an exquisite and precise pattern, stirring thoughts of sacred geometry. A two-dimensional work in progress rests on a nearby table, seemingly in some quiet dialogue with its neighboring scientific apparatus.
Call and Response (2021), a piece exhibited at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana, was one work informed by the dynamics of the Chladni plate. “The year of pandemic isolation and immobility made me think about the nature of stillness and silence, and these undulating, shifting patterns seemed to reflect my experience of it,” says the artist. “That year was also the year of the George Floyd protests and ever-heightening racial tension. Call and Response coalesced from my thoughts on silence and the stillness of those who are silenced.”
The artist’s centeredness being in nature itself, Das Gupta is equally at home both in her Las Cruces studio and beyond. Das Gupta and her husband moved to the United States from their native India in 2000 for his medical residency, and their family have since become citizens. She says of her life, “I experience the world as one community, a whole in its own right.” Artist residencies have taken Das Gupta to U.S. cities and to Israel, Greece, China, South Korea, and India. Her 2018 installation X’ing? Look Both Ways was conceptualized, constructed, and exhibited on site at the Indian Ceramics Triennale in Jaipur that same year. The monumental work was comprised of salvaged materials, optical elements, and sculpted ceramic components, creating a labyrinth wherein visitors found themselves reflected on barriers. Two-way lenses permeated the walls, with the reverse angle of each lens creating an inverted image of the opposite side. The resulting upside-down view was intended to evoke reflections on space, personal presence, and perception of the “other” within the constraints of physical boundaries. A piece modeled after X’ing? Look Both Ways, titled simply Look Both Ways, was exhibited at the artist’s solo exhibition In/Sight at the Roswell Museum in 2019.
Das Gupta’s most recent residency was at the Archie Bray Foundation. “From the beginning, the Bray was unique,” says the artist. “The application included unusual questions. They asked about when I was a child, what did I want to be when I grew up?”
The artist’s answer?
“I said I wanted to be a cloud. I can remember spending many hours gazing at clouds, wanting to drift among them.” Her reply is strikingly fitting to what would become the work produced at the Bray: The Time Travelled (2021), a kinetic piece now installed on the grounds there. The artist modeled its form after the alchemical symbol for change, two intersecting triangles. “Kalyug is the Indian mythological term for the times we live in now,” Das Gupta explains. “In Indian mythology, Kalyug is the age of destruction that happens at the end of each epoch. Yet Kalyug carries within it the seeds that will generate the next cycle of life. The Time Travelled was conceived as a weathervane that moves with the wind and points to both the future and the past; yet, as I look at it, the word that comes to mind is rupture. Perhaps subconsciously it is more an expression of what the year 2021 came to represent, an inner sense of rupture in the fabric of my life.”
The artist says she’s currently in a quiet repose regarding her work, now preparing for a trip to Italy to relax and recalibrate. Yet, like the current piece in her studio, at rest but in progress, Das Gupta’s practice is never fallow—life and landscape are her work. No doubt the artist will return newly inspired by experiences that will inform projects to come.