MAstars 2014: Rajshree Gupta, MFA

MAstars 2014: Rajshree Gupta, MFA Rajshree Gupta, Unrevealed... Unspoken... Untold, 2014. Digital media, black and white. 7 mins 13 secs

Shamita Sharmacharja selects Rajshree Gupta from Wimbledon College of Arts for MAstars

The faltering voice of the artist's mother provides the narrative to Rajshree Gupta's video, 'Unrevealed... Unspoken... Untold' (2014). Juxtaposed with black and white documentary footage of her daily life, Gupta's mother Poonam recounts her painful descent into a degenerative condition which has left her bed-ridden, her mind inextricably severed from the body she can no longer control.

She begins by relaying how on her wedding day her marriage was cursed by a pan-handler to whom she had refused to give money. 'No', she remarks sadly, shaking uncontrollably, 'I do not believe in this.' She goes on to reminisce about achievements past, when she was able to devour three or four novels in one sitting or fulfil her household chores rather than be utterly dependent on her husband, who we see patiently feeding her. These scenes are spliced with images of her confinement, a wheelchair, hospital machinery, the endless spiral of the ceiling fan that she stares at day after day.

Rajshree Gupta, Unrevealed... Unspoken... Untold, 2014. Digital media, black and white. 7 mins 13 secs

Part biography, part paean for her mother's previous life that she never knew, 'Unrevealed...' is an ambitious and extraordinarily brave first foray into moving image for Gupta. Before studying for her MFA at Wimbledon, the Delhi-based artist concentrated on drawing and painting, producing elegiac ink portraits of her mother in a bid to understand her condition, and abstract works composed from repetitive mark-making inspired by the artist's insomnia.

Gupta cites a range of influences for her latest work. Marcus Coates's 'The Trip' (2011), in which he fulfils the last wishes of a resident in a palliative care home by journeying down the Amazon on his behalf, is a key reference, investigating themes of physical confinement versus imaginative freedom which are taken up in Gupta's work. The photographs of Jo Spence play a similarly influential role in informing how Poonam's illness is depicted, and how her gendered role is explored.

The intensity of the mother-daughter relationship is the unseen but ever present subject of the work. Gupta cites Chantal Ackerman's 1977 documentary 'News From Home', in which the filmmaker reads letters from her mother in a one-way narrative, as a chief influence on her approach. It is also reminiscent of Sophie Calle's 2006 film installation 'Rachel, Monique', in which the artist documents the last moments of her mother's death, in an attempt to stave off - or make sense of - the inevitable.

'Unrevealed... Unspoken... Untold' is an evocative meditation on living and dying, remembrance and fantasy, loving and loss that is made all the more powerful by its simplicity and restraint. The result is a mesmerising biopic that stays in the mind and haunts the viewer long after.

Selected by Shamita Sharmacharja
Published August, 2014

About Shamita Sharmacharja

Shamita Sharmacharja is a curator based in London. She is currently Curator of Temporary Exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection, Euston, where she most recently curated Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan (2013) and is currently developing forthcoming shows on forensic medicine and the human voice respectively. Prior to her work at Wellcome, Shamita worked in the curatorial department of Whitechapel Gallery and the interpretation and education department at Tate Modern. She was commissioning editor of A Manual for the 21st Century Institution (Koenig Books, 2009), and has contributed texts to numerous exhibition catalogues and publications. She studied English Literature and History of Art at Edinburgh University and took part in the Arts Council's Inspire curatorial fellowship programme from 2006-2008.

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