He is Queer, he is daring and he is freaking talented! Meet our very known and famous artist, Balbir Krishan.
Q. Give us a brief about this collaboration with Engender and what Resist means to you.
Engendered is a New York based organisation which has been working on the subject of gender and sexuality for the last few years. In 2012, Myna Mukharji, the director of Engendered opened a gallery named ‘Engendered Space’ in Delhi. Few months ago, when the horrific rape of a medical student rocked the nation, the artist community felt that we as artists should also protest against such tragic incidents. Myna Mukharji gathered the artist fraternity together for this cause. Today, I feel very proud that I am a part of Resist.
Q. Could you tell us a bit about the exhibits and paintings you plan to showcase at Resist. What has been the inspiration behind your work?
My exhibit in Resist is titled “The Inside Woman”, the fable of Shiva, Mohini and Harihar. There is a very interesting story behind this. The legend goes that once Vishnu took the avatar of Mohini and came to Earth. After seeing Mohini, Shiva was attracted to her. They say that Mohini did not have a womb and that every drop of Shiva’s semen is potent. So during the intercourse between Shiva and Mohini, few drops of semen fell on the thighs of Mohini. It was then, that from the thighs of Mohini a child was born; Harihar.
My exhibit in Resist depicts this story, linking it with the present situation only. My insipiration behind this painting is the Director of Engendered Gallery, Myna Mukharji.
Q. Resist aims at being a voice of protest against gender based violence. In your opinion, what role can art play in fighting social problems?
In my opinion, Resist has emerged as a strong protest in the Indian contemporary art scenario. Resist is not only a medium, but it has become a movement. Not only artists but designers, musicians and people from other art fields have come together for this. It is also important that post Delhi and Chennai, Resist has reached Mumbai.
Art is a strong medium that can be used to stand against societal wrong doings- to fight. But in reality there are very few protests against gender based violence. There are a few organisations/ bodies who are doing good work on this, but it is important that it reaches the masses.
Especially when we speak about art, then these kind of protests are very few and far in between. Artists usually work at a very individual level. There are very few artists in India who are working on the subject of Gender and sexuality; the new generation of artists is working on it.
Art has played an important role for a long time as a commentary on the society. Works like “Third of May” by Goya, “Olympia” by Manet and “Guernica” by Picasso still touch a raw nerve with society. Art plays an important role of wake up a sleeping society.
Q. Do you think that the Indian society has become more accepting/ open to the concept of homosexuality in art?
When people talk about society and homosexuality, the topic is still behind closed doors and they want it to remain like that. So it is natural that the society is not very willing to accept homosexuality in art. People who believe in this subject, are fighting for it as a cause. Every time we come and stand in front of the society in a strong manner, but still they look at us very astonishingly. I am sure there will be a day when everything around us will be normal and the society’s questions will vanish.
In the Indian art scenario, till a few years ago, the situation was quite different. Besides Bhupen Khakkar, very few artists used to work on homosexuality as a subject. Today the situation is very positive. A lot of artists are working on this subject. This is also important that these artists are not working behind any closed doors. They are in the open and quite literally telling the society that, “Look I am also here, so you cannot ignore me”.
Q. You were attacked earlier at an exhibition in Delhi. Is freedom of expression becoming difficult in our country?
It is true that in India, it is not easy to work on what you think is right. There are a lot of problems. Not only the society but galleries, artists, art critics also suffer from homophobia. In 2011 when I wanted to do my solo exhibition on homosexuality, no one came forward to extend support. Galleries did not want to exhibit my work, art critics did not want to write my catalogue. Some people wanted to buy my work but their families did not want to hang my work in their homes. Some people supported me and when I did my show, there was a lot of protest and caused a lot of loss to me personally.
When people realised that I was gay, a lot of close friends left me treating me like an untouchable. Today when I look back, I realise that after the attack I have become stronger and stand by my reality. Where the society is concerned, they were very forgiving but some so called guardians of the society became a problem. For them, freedom of expression meant to create upheaval in the society. Some people in this society want to tell you that you are not even worth taking a breath. Society forgets that freedom cannot be curtailed, it finds its own way.
Q. As an artist, do you feel that queer art has become a part of the mainstream consciousness? How has expression of homosexuality in art evolved over the years?
Queer art is still quite far away from becoming a part of the Indian mainstream, although the landscape is changing rapidly and lot of good things are happening. There are shows based on Queer art. Magazines are writing about it. There are debates and discussions happening.
In 2012, the opening of Engendered marked a new beginning. Specifically for those artists who are working on gender and sexuality as their subjects and for those who cannot approach other galleries, Engendered is a happy reality.
But still, a lot needs to change and a lot needs to happen. Society and the art fraternity should change their mode of thinking. We know it’s a long, long process.
Q. Any message for up and coming artists?
I am not comfortable giving any messages. All I want to say is that work and live life according to the thoughts and values you believe in. Never cheat yourself. Work hard. There is no substitute to hard work.
[Resist : Opening on 17 May at 7:30 p.m. with performances starting at 9:30 p.m. at Gallery Beyond, Mumbai.]