Queer launched in Delhi on the 2nd May at Max Mueller Bhavan, and lauches in London on 31 May 2011, Autograph ABP, Rivington Place.
Published by Prestel and Vadehra Art Gallery.
In Sunil Gupta's book titled Queer, we travel the world — beginning in Montreal and landing in Delhi — imagining the lives of his ‘documentary’ portraits of gay men and women. Amongst the larger collection, however, is his series of photographs in Delhi, as a city of government, history, romance, immigration, invasion, art and from this all, as a city of architecture.
One of the most intriguing aspects of exploring the old forts and tombs of Delhi is their unflinching mutability. Their ability to remain, always, as stoic and dictatorial as they always were, and yet deceive, like the chameleons that haunt their cool corners -- morphing with the times.
Gupta’s protagonists appear, barely, in the foreground of the nostalgic landmarks of Delhi, namely Qutub Minar, India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb and Tughlakabad. The monuments seem to gain a voice, a gender, a face, a color and an ideal — contingent upon their inhabitants: families, lovers, photographers, historians. And so they do become personages of time, self-expression, essence, tolerance, non-judgment and preservation, and celebration.
Gupta seems to say that his sexual identity and the homosexual relationships portrayed are not only an intrinsic part of Delhi today — and contemporary India at large -- but are perhaps as old as these new ‘preserved’ monuments are. Ironically, these are the same structures that entertained the cross-dressed dancers in their courts, and permitted homosexuality amongst the kings, dismissing it as 'nawabi shauk'. These are also the monuments where India’s oldest forms of graffiti were laid down: notes from one lover to another to express themselves in an otherwise repressed social atmosphere.
None of the protagonists’ whole faces are revealed, in fact most face the monument itself, as if in confrontation with a construct that is both foreign and omni-present. The image of the man in front of Safdarjung's Tomb holding a cigarette, literally has his head cut off; the monument appears straight centre, reflecting the facelessness and guillotine experienced by homosexuals in the 80s.
One of the most fluidly engaging aspects of this book is the ease with which even the most deliberate, posed photographs belong to their environments. Gupta’s title, Queer, then, implies an ironic abnormality, an incongruous tangent from the status quo. In depicting a culture that he is intrinsic to, and though marginalised, epitomises Gupta’s own life, the title seems to satirise, even hyperbolise our notions of the ‘Queer.’
And finally, the viewer comes upon the photograph of the gay pride parade in the current decade. Here is a contemporary setting of gay Delhi, no longer represented with the background of monuments — societal constructions — instead shaded by the natural aspect of trees. Neem trees shade pride posters as India passes the 377 bill, and finally, full faces are in view.
The photographs serve, ultimately, to give face and an open identity to Gupta’s characters. Though straddling the lines between autobiographical and indulgent, the book is, in the end, a fascinating visual story of a man who finds home everywhere, for his own identity is intact, and when he does return Home, is able to transform the identity of a place and a community through his lens of self.
~ Himali Singh Soin, a writer living in India.
(All images courtesy of the artist and Vadehra Art Gallery.)