The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) has acquired a major work by Shilpa Gupta, an artist currently featured in the Venice Biennale, where she is appearing in the exhibition
May You Live in Interesting Times curated by Ralph Rugoff. The installation For, in your tongue, I cannot fit: 100 jailed poets is the first work by this internationally famous Indian artist to enter a public collection in Canada. Gupta’s multi-disciplinary oeuvre could not be more cutting-edge: she is preoccupied with the political social space, most notably with notions of boundaries and censorship, and the power of walls, including walls of words. This acquisition was made possible thanks to funding raised by the first edition of W. Bruce C. Bailey’s Fête Champêtre in 2018.

For, in your tongue, I cannot fit: 100 jailed poets

This impressive and touching work is the first piece by a contemporary artist from India to be acquired by the MMFA. The power of language and words, their poetry and their potential for violence, are at the heart of
Gupta’s discourse. For, in your tongue, I cannot fit: 100 jailed poets is a perfect illustration of this strong attachment to words and names. It is composed of 100 collections of poetry written by poets from different lands and different eras: what they have in common is that all of them were imprisoned for their writing. Each book has been cast in gun metal and laid out on an immense 12 metre long table so that the visitor can read 2 the title and a few words of the work. Brought together in this manner, their lines evoke the power of words and their potential for uniting or dividing us.

Among the 100 poets whose work is immortalized here in gun metal, Gupta chose texts that are very personal for her, written by authors from some forty countries including Khushhal Khattak (1613-1689)
from Afghanistan, Jean Richepin (1849-1926) and Auguste Marseille Barthélemy (1796-1867) from France, Asrar Hussain Khan (1919-2000) from India, Alan Ginsberg (1926-1997) from the United States, Habib Jalib (1928-1993) from Pakistan, Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995, father of the artist Zina Saro-Wiwa, creator of a diptych recently acquired by the Museum) from Nigeria, Ashraf Fayadh (1980- ) from Saudi Arabia and TalalMallouhi (1991- ) from Syria. The texts are inscribed or translated into English.

Extract:

A son who has seen a number of jail terms
Causing tears to flow in streams on Mother’s cheeks.
Sitting next to her, I find myself so small
Next to the great vast love of my mother.
– Nguyen Chi Thien (1939-2012)

Born in Mumbai in 1976, Shilpa Gupta graduated from the Sir J.J. School of Fine Arts in that city. She is one of the best known and most prolific contemporary Indian artists in the world. Her approach focuses on nationalism, identity, boundaries, religion, and the human condition and on the role of art across all aspects of society. Her works have a critical element and are especially concerned with establishing a dialogue with the public.

Photo and text: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts