“I woke up one night and was duly informed that I now lived in the fragment of another country inside a country.” This lone line on a pristine sheet of paper in Shilpa Gupta’s solo exhibition succinctly sums up the plight of people whose lives undergo dramatic changes by the often arbitrary redrawing of national borders. The untitled work from 2013 refers, in particular, to the Indian and Bangladeshi areas left behind in each other’s countries after the subcontinent’s independence from the UK.
Gupta travelled to these enclaves, or chitmahals in Bengali, to learn firsthand of life there. The disempowerment and entrapment of those inhabitants is expressed in an array of media, ranging from video to delicate drawings made with a cough syrup prohibited in Bangladesh. In a series of untitled photographs from 2014–15, landscape scenes with pieces cut out by the artist serve as a poignant testimony to the fate of these often neglected and forgotten communities. Gupta also draws attention to the difficulties in transporting goods across national borders, by enshrining in glass vitrines the types of objects people commonly attempt to move between the two countries. While a shredded Bangladeshi sari lies in one (each untitled, 2014–15), another contains crushed bone china, a metonymy for the illegal trade in cattle whose skeletons are transformed into the precious material.