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The Presence of Absence
Published: Volume 12 Issue 5 November-December, 2004
I find myself delving into and drawing from the unspoken, or in many cases the socially understated that ticks beneath the surface of all human interactions. I want to lure the viewer into this with deception-that of the products that we negotiate with on a daily basis.

Artist, Sudarshan Shetty, reveals to Anupa Mehta that 'the idea of being elsewhere' is a key element in his work

Becoming an artist was more compulsion than choice. Being a late bloomer has its advantages. I was a commerce graduate by the time I joined art school. Most students took fine art as a last resort; aspiring to be an artist was considered a loser's choice. I was fortunate to have liberal parents who didn't measure success in terms of money or fame.

I was naive about several things. I still am with reference to money and the market. I have chosen to keep myself out of it - it helped me not to lose focus, or myself to the many demands that one is compelled to live up to. This choice allows me the freedom to make works that do not necessarily comply with the market.

In retrospect, I think I was taken care of only through miracles. In India I am still on the fringes despite the fact that I exhibit internationally and my work is collected by museums across the globe. Buyers are hard to come by for work that makes them uncomfortable or is challenging. I believe that if someone buys my work, they buy a responsibility. A collector, like an artist, must question and operate beyond his/her own likes and dislikes.

I am interested in the idea of absence, a human absence, of being elsewhere. I think most of us are condemned to be elsewhere: I embrace this predicament and rejoice in it.

I find myself delving into and drawing from the unspoken, or in many cases the socially understated that ticks beneath the surface of all human interactions. I want to lure the viewer into this with deception-that of the products that we negotiate with on a daily basis. I try to define this space with familiar objects, to create a dialogue between them that may reveal some truths to me about my own life. I find that this is the best way I can have a true communication possible with the world at large.

The juxtaposition of seemingly incongruous objects - fruits and rusted blades - results in a coming together of a new meaning; even a kind of poetry, which at times I do not grasp. It's not important to understand a work of art. What is more important is a sense of relationship with it, as uncomfortable as it may be.

My imagery stems from the spoken language, a word or a phrase. This allows me to sidestep my role as image maker. Perhaps this is what unsettles the viewer and introduces an edgy note into the process of viewing. It is important to challenge modes of viewership.

I also work in collaboration with carpenters and others in order to question the idea of authorship. Such partnerships allow me to extend my own limits. In Consanguinity (Nature Morte/Bose Pacia, New Delhi), I worked with imagery linked to blood. It was a challenge to use the blood - I was dealing with a lot of it in the course of a personal tragedy - in profusion but in a poetic manner whilst not allowing it to slide into the realm of the macabre.

Words like 'perversity' and 'subversion' are used with reference to my work. I like the suggestion of 'perversity that is hardly at all depraved' - an observation made by Vyjayanthi Rao in the catalogue for Statics, my last show at Gallery Chemould, Mumbai. As for subversion, it cannot be a device. In the works of many artists that I see, it is used as an important ingredient of the recipe. It is a natural outcome of the act of defining one's own space. If my work is not subversive, I must live in a state of eternal bliss.

Currently, I am busy working on a project in collaboration with Shantanu Poredi, for a collapsible museum that simulates a flea market during the weekends. It'll be exhibited at Chatterji and Lal Gallery, Mumbai, later this year.

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