By Aubrey Hobart
Curator of Collections
Roswell Museum and
The desktop wallpaper on my work computer is the default one that comes with its program. Every morning when I log in, there’s a new photograph of Hawaii or Portugal or some other stunningly beautiful place in the world. I don’t mind because I enjoy looking at beautiful places. I think most people do. However, there are some people who love the beauty of the world more than most. They can find it in a single blade of trampled grass or in an evaporating puddle at the side of the highway. One of these people is ceramic artist Sharbani Das Gupta, whose work is now on view at the Roswell Museum and Art Center (RMAC).
Das Gupta loves the environment. These days, saying that someone loves the environment seems to suggest all kinds of things about their politics and beliefs, but it didn’t use to be a controversial statement to say that someone loves the land, and Das Gupta really loves the land. When she travels to Greece or to her homeland of India, she returns with a big bag of rocks that she found on her journey. They’re not particularly interesting rocks, necessarily. They don’t represent minerals that are only found in those locations or that geologists would find unusual. Instead, they’re rocks that spoke to her. One might have a gentle grey vein running through it. Another might be a lovely shade of pink or has a faint shimmer on one side. Despite having now collected hundreds of rocks from around the world, she can tell you the story of each and every one, and where she found it.
Das Gupta also collects photographs of cloud formations and the gorgeous New Mexico skies around her home in Las Cruces.
When an artist is this connected with the land, that love is going to come out in her work. Especially when she uses a medium like clay that comes directly from the earth. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, like in her piece, “Field Notes from a Blue Planet.” In these imagined geologic core samples, our world is teeming with water and plant life all the way through. These cores are brittle, though, cracked and in danger of breaking. Das Gupta wrote, “As ice caps melt, and the record of Earth’s past slips away, I was prompted by a desire to record my own impressions of a beloved planet.”
In another of her works, “Look Both Ways,” Das Gupta has built a maze of concrete walls dotted here and there with graffiti. Inset into these walls are enormous ceramic eyes with glass pupils. The pupils, recycled lenses from old projection-style television sets, distort the viewer’s gaze, making everything on the other side of the wall seem upside down and strange. The artist seems to be asking, “Is this always what happens when we look through barriers at the unknown people on the other side?” How much does our location determine our perception?
“Hothouse” — another installation work — is a collaboration between Das Gupta and painter Isadora Stowe. Das Gupta has built a forest of cast clay pipes that veer between the natural and artificial worlds, suggesting trees, plant pots and pipelines all at the same time. Nestled in these ceramic pipe-trees are neon-colored images of endangered bird species painted by Stowe. Her fragile glass ornaments highlight the beauty and delicateness of birds; without the protection of the forest, they will fall and shatter. The entire installation is topped with plastic that was recovered from a construction site, evoking either the canopy of the pipe forest or great clouds of smoke.
The last two pieces in the show are more personal. “Imperfect Offerings” and “Topologies of Memory” both deal with Das Gupta’s artistic journey, learning to accept and even embrace the imperfections of nature and humanity, and the persistence of memory.
For anyone interested in learning more about Das Gupta’s work, she will be giving a Brown Bag Talk at RMAC on Feb. 7 at noon. Bring your lunch and eat with us; admission is free with dessert provided. Das Gupta’s exhibition in/sight will be open to the public through April 5. If you also love the land, she may have a message just for you.