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Sutapa Biswas talks to Ben Luke about her influences—from writers to musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work.

Biswas was born in Santinekethan, India, in 1962, and her work in painting, drawing, photography and video explores race and gender within the context of colonialism and its legacies. Made over five decades since the early 1980s, her art is both rigorously consistent in its themes and thrillingly diverse in mood and mode—by turns poetic, activist and even satirical.

Production still from Sutapa Biswas, Birdsong (2004)

She discusses her studies in art and art history with Griselda Pollock, among others, at the University of Leeds in the 1980s, where she challenged the Eurocentric framing of the course, and made crucial early pieces including the painting Housewives with Steak-knives (1983-85).

Installation view of Sutapa Biswas‘s Housewives with Steak-knives (1983-85)

She reflects on her family history, and the traumatic journey to the UK from India, and how this haunts her work today. She discusses the influence of artists including Leonor Fini, Johannes Vermeer and Mary Kelly, film-makers like Satyajit Ray and Jean Cocteau, and writers including Marcel Proust. And she answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?

Production still from Sutapa Biswas, Lumen – apples and pomegranates, 2021

  • Women in Revolt! Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990, Tate Britain, London, until 7 April 2024
  • The Time of Our Lives, Drawing Room, London, 25 January-21 April 2024
  • Photographing 80s Britain: A Critical Decade, Tate Britain, London, 21 November 2024-5 May 2025

This podcast is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects, the arts and culture app.

The free app offers access to a vast range of international cultural organisations through a single download, with new guides being added regularly. They include the Graves Gallery in Sheffield. If you download the app you’ll find that the guide to the Graves has in-depth audio features and texts on numerous works in its collection, from one of JMW Turner’s sunlit landscapes, to a stripe painting by Bridget Riley and a work by Marlene Smith, who, like Sutapa Biswas, was a leading figure in the 1980s Black Arts Movement in the UK.

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