Contemporary Indian artist Vibha Galhotra reveals the role food plays in her artistic life

Soon after seeing off the shipment to New York for an upcoming exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, Vibha Galhotra reaches the venue before time. Hungry after a hectic day, the artist quips, “I didn't have time for lunch so I am famished. No other day could have been better for this interview.” At the uber chic Polo Lounge Bar in Hyatt Regency, Delhi, it's a relaxed Monday evening and Vibha is only eager to soak it in. After all, her latest body of work “Utopia of Difference”, on which she spent about three years, is complete. “By the end of this year, Gallery Espace, the art gallery I work with here, will exhibit it,” says the contemporary artist taking the first sip of pineapple juice. One of the works from the show, ‘Colony collapse disorder' has already been seen, rather experienced, by many at the India Art Fair. Modelled on a beehive, the installation using several lakh bronze trinkets, created quite a buzz at the Fair. “A lot of people wanted to touch it and were curious about the whole process like how I did it and how much time did it take to finish it. The non-gallery going crowd really asks interesting questions and I spent all the time at the Fair responding to those.”

An unusual combination of veg pita pocket and French fries lands at the table and she is eager to try it. “I make pita bread at home too but yes the filling differs. Here it has falafel, chickpeas and many other things. The dip is really good. It's creamy and olive oil adds to it,” comments Vibha adding that cooking is an art. “I do it for enjoyment. I used to have a lot of parties at home inviting people from the art fraternity but no more. The visual element is so crucial to food and I am particular about how it is presented so I have designed the dining table in the house.”

Like many contemporary artists in India and abroad who have taken up the subject of food, Vibha is also working on a food-based project. “I am making text paranthas in my kitchen which are later fed to the dogs. For instance, in ‘Truth is dead', ‘Truth' parantha is made out of non-vegetarian food and dead is a simple plain one. So, the dog relishes the non-vegetarian one and leaves the other one. Who wants to have a simple parantha after feasting on a non-vegetarian one? It's an on-going thing and it come out like a set of performative photographs.” Biting into the crispy tomato bruschetta, she reveals how food talks are so popular elsewhere particularly in Europe. “After the talk, they will have a meal which will be cooked specially by an artist.”

Art residencies are also fun when it comes to food, she feels. Just back from Colombo, where she participated in the Colombo Art Biennale and also attended a residency, she recalled, how different artists there made food without using the coconut oil. At the Biennale, her gallery had exhibited one of her landmark installations, ‘Neo-Monster', a larger than life size earth mover machine made out of an inflated balloon. Using it as a metaphor, Vibha raises questions about urbanization and consumerism. A travelling work, the installation is on display in Mumbai currently and before that it did rounds of several public spaces in Delhi, one of them being the atrium of Select City Walk in Saket. The concept of public art appeals to the artist and she feels her engagement with the stream could increase in future. Her discourse on ecology, consumerism and changing cities too calls for a direct engagement with the masses. “Everything is changing and it's all so complicated. I am a witness to the transformation and working around it. I am not an activist because I haven't really done anything but yes I am actively thinking which gets reproduced in my art,” says Vibha, who is particular about using bio-degradable material in her pieces.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during his India visit was gifted Vibha's ARTTIGER (Artiger - Art for the Tiger project spearheaded by Swapan Seth, Aparajita Jain and Nandita Kathpalia Baig) by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Executed in just four days, Vibha's tiger simply used canvas and lycra. “If I had my way, I would have given him Neo-Camouflage, a photographic installation because change is a strong metaphor of that work.”

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