Painting intimacy on canvas can be a tricky business in India. And when it’s same-sex intimacy, the stakes are higher.
This weekend, a bunch of artists from the LGBTQI community in Kerala and beyond, who have painted their perspectives of homosexual intimacy on canvas, are seeking to normalise stereotypes through an art exhibit titled ‘Homomorphism II’.
A seven-day affair, the exhibit is set to open its doors to the public at the Kerala History Museum in Kochi from July 14-21. And frankly, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Coincidentally, this week, the country’s top court began examining a clutch of petitions challenging the legality of Section 377, an archaic Victorian-era law of the Indian penal code that punishes ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature.’ If the law gets struck down by the Supreme Court, as is expected, it will mean a historic step of liberation for the LGBTQI community in India.
“We had not planned this at all, but it sure is very coincidental,” laughs Jijo Kuriakose, a gay artist and founder-member of ‘Queerala’, an LGBTQI community in Kerala.
Kuriakose, who had come out to his family five years ago, spent the last several months commissioning other artists from the community to draw their notions on being gay, their feelings and desires. These pieces of artwork along with photographs capture different shades of the intimacy wired in the minds of same-sex individuals and explore in great detail how they view the world around them. There are also clear outlines of solitude, nostalgia and singlehood.
Three years ago, the first edition of the exhibition was held in Kochi with five artists, all of them from Kerala. This time though, the scale is larger with six newer artists from the state and beyond.
“Art is a common medium that is relevant to all of us,” says Kuriakose, who works mostly with water-colours and micron-pens, which have nibs narrower than a strand of hair.
“My artwork reflects what my mind thinks about a person regardless of his sexual orientation. That’s all,” he adds.
The exhibition is set to feature Aishwaryan Kumaran (Bengaluru), Arvin Ombika (Mauritius), Santanu Dutta (Kolkata), Sandeep TK (Bengaluru), Mahesh M (Kochi) and Pragya Pallavi (Mumbai) apart from Kuriakose. The lesbian notions of intimacy will be represented at the exhibition by Pragya, who deals exclusively with digital art.
“I have tried to portray (the notion of surrendering in love. It’s a powerful thing. You will feel that when you see my artwork. It’s very much intimate but at the same time it’s normal,” says 33-year-old Pallavi. “We need to have our voices heard and art is the best non-violent way to fight for your rights.”
Pallavi, who was born in Patna but has spent most of her life growing up in Mumbai, feels the exhibition will have a ‘good leverage’ especially at a momentous time for LGBTQI rights.
“At present, it’s not legal to be yourself, gay or lesbian…we live in a world which is discriminating. I’m expecting a strong judgment. Let 377 be repealed,” she said.
Mahesh M, 29, one of the seven artists at the exhibition, says he has lived through years of being ridiculed and mocked by his friends for his sexual orientation. When he was young, he said he would often destroy paintings of male intimacy right after he drew them, afraid of what his friends would think of him. He says he hasn’t come out to his family and the public because he is still overcautious of his identity.
“Through campaigns, we are trying to remove homophobia and transphobia but we need legal protection. That’s why, 377 must be ripped apart. The court must also look to solve the issue of marriage along with decriminalising consensual sex,” he said.