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An Exhibition Marks the Better Representation of LGBTQ+ Artists

At 'Me We', there's even an installation of Shikhandi at the segregated loos.
June 29, 2018, 10:30am
"Let me fly" (detail) by Nikhil Bansal

“Friends who want to have hot chai when it is 48 degrees outside are also queer,” said Sumiran Kabir Sharma, an apparel designer, while unpacking—amongst other things—the definition of queer. Sharma was on a panel as part of the queer art show, ME WE, organised by art-space Engendered at New Delhi’s American Center. The exhibition in on here until July 8. Outside the hall, placed between the “men” and “women” signboards at the restrooms, Sharma’s installation of a mannequin is a fitting allusion to Shikhandi, the mythical character from the Mahabharata who shifts genders to realise their destiny of avenging their wrongdoer, Bhishma. Every bit of the exhibition space, even by the elevator, is similarly utilised for the 70-odd artworks by over two dozen artists.

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Baishali Chetia's GIF art was part of the show.

“I have been stationed here for two years, but this is a first-of-its-kind exhibition,” said a security-officer on duty. “To me, it speaks of the equality of all genders”. Queer art is a first for Engendered as well. “Section 377 is coming back in the Supreme Court in November this year and the time feels apt,” said Myna Mukherjee, Engendered’s director and the curator of ME WE.

In one nook is a queer readers’ fantasy: a pop-up library of nearly 100 books for LGBTQIA and questioning youth. It has been set-up by Bi-Collective Delhi, a 10-person volunteer group, who want to provide free reading-resources, “Because the isolation that bisexual persons face can be very bad for mental health,” said Navdeep Sharma, one of the Collective’s founding members.

"Trans Passing", digital painting by Gargi Chandola.

The art is fiercely lyrical and depicts every inch of the human body and its desires. There are paintings, photographs, sculptures, installations, prints of digital finger-paintings on iOS devices, and even GIFs. “I follow a lot of popular culture on Twitter and Instagram, and reached out to the artists there,” Mukherjee said. Despite the democracy of upcoming artists mingling with established ones, there is also an admission of the elitism inherent in some expressions of gender and sexual identity. Working against this is a reference to Bhupen Khakhar, the class-defying painter from Gujarat who is known for representing autobiographical same-sex intimacy. Panellist Ram Rehman’s photograph of “Khakhar sitting in the crotch of MK Gandhi’s statue” was quite a popular selfie-spot after the panel-discussion.

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Not everyone was impressed: “I did not quite like the exhibition,” said a middle-aged Dr. Sarvjit Dudeja, who introduced himself as a scientist. In a lower tone, he added, “Having too much sex makes you homosexual. But, science says that can be corrected.”

Perhaps he may have benefitted from the advice I got from visitor Pavel Sagolsem, who recommended I spend a few minutes with Baishali Chetia’s artworks, ”for demystifying same-sex intimacy for heterosexual persons.”

Sumiran Kabir Sharma's installation at the loos.

Follow Akshita Nagpal on Twitter.