Sculptures are perhaps a nation’s first mass-appeal art form, contributing to the national identity and helping to define a national character. Stainless steel lends itself to versatile use in sculpture and art making thanks to the various hues and shades that can be imparted onto steel. With excellent formability and weldability, stainless steel is often the material of choice to aptly represent concepts of beauty and permanence. With its inherent features of corrosion resistance, excellent aesthetics and minimal maintenance, stainless steel has an instant edge over other materials for contemporary Indian artists when they conceptualise public artworks designed to last a lifetime and beyond.
‘The Sky is the Limit’ by Balan Nambiar, 2010
Although the use of stainless steel in various end-use applications has expanded significantly in India since the 1990s, its use in architectural applications, and especially in public art installations, was until recently quite limited. Among the few earliest noticeable manifestations of stainless steel in creative representations was ‘The Sky is the Limit’ by Balan Nambiar. Crafted of 304 grade stainless steel, the sculpture depicts hexagons branching out and upwards in a spiral form akin to petals springing from a plant. Leading sculptors such as S. Nandagopal, S. Kanniappan and Balan Nambiar have embellished their creative thoughts through the medium of stainless steel for over three decades.
In the last few years stainless steel has caught the imagination of some leading artists in India. This has resulted in some masterpieces becoming landmarks.
Subodh Gupta is one of the most significant Indian artists on the international scene and he has created many masterpieces made out of stainless steels. One of his most prominent works is displayed at the heart of the national capital Delhi and has become an iconic stainless steel sculpture which grabs the attention of passerby. The sculptor is named ‘Dada’, a Hindi word for grandfather, and in it one can see one’s own reflection, memories, and feel the protection and blessings of elderS. The trunks and branches are moulded in stainless steel and its leaves are made by arranging stainless steel pots, pans, buckets and spoons in various shapes and sizes. This sculpture is meant to be very easily recognizable, especially to those driving past the roundabout of the famous India Gate.
One of India’s largest and most visible public art installations is ‘Sprouts’, a 40-foot-high stainless steel installation spread over six acres of green land surrounding the All India Institute of Medical Sciences flyover in the heart of Delhi. It is the creation of one of the leading creative professionals in India, Vibhor Sogani. He has a passion for exploring materials such as stainless steel and transforming them into innovative expressions in art, sculpture and light installations. The globes of the sprouts are designed in such a way that the top half reflects the sky and the lower half the ground.
The increasing awareness of the ability of stainless steel to last longer than most other materials, combined with the range of finishes, shapes and sizes it can adopt, means that various artists in India have started adopting it in their work. From city roundabouts to public parks to various office and commercial complexes, stainless steel is finding its way into public installations. Today stainless steel reflects not just the evolving landscape, but it also symbolises the growth and optimism that is enveloping Indian society. It has come to stay in India and has indeed a great future.
*Header Image: ‘Sprouts’ by Vibhor Sogani