From the moment you step in, the ME WE exhibit is a delicious surprise. At a narrow passage besides the stairs, one is met with the majestic paintings by Nikhil Bansal made in the Kangra style. Also adorned with stars and gold, these portraits are reminiscent of the works by Gustav Klimt. It is difficult not to be overcome with the beauty in their detailing. When you turn around to head downstairs, you may almost miss the picture of the American president with his stiff smile. On the flight of stairs are two separate media works, a collection of gifs – how soon we’ve stepped from kangra to Instagram! Curated by Myna Mukherjee and held at the American Center in Delhi, the Me We exhibition showcases works by LGBTQ+ artists, featuring works in classical styles to new media to everything in between.
Some of the works at the exhibit responded to the space itself and were commissioned for the site. One such is a mannequin installed by Sumiran Kabir Sharma between toilet signs pointing opposite ways: men / women. Standing in-between, the mannequin embodies a witty challenge to male/female binaries. At the same time dressed in burqa, exposing one breast and standing behind a black stringy purdah, it only adds to existing tropes on Muslim sexuality: double standards, hypocrisy, hypersexuality. A much more refined question is posed by the binary of Inder Salim, with a photograph juxtaposing him in a bindi and Kashmiri topi.
Mohan Jangid’s “Love u babe” series suffers from being over-busy: the message of police and power, oversexualised anime women, and a bar code with I Love Porn, all too much to add up and process. Jangid’s installation piece, LUST covered with red and saffron string, speaks volumes but by stringing together much less. With the ‘thread’ (sutra) that covers lust, the piece also gives a tip of the hat to Kamasutra, and toes the line between what is considered sacred and sacrilegious.
Artwork by Mohan Jangid
In contrast, Renu Sharma’s work stands out for its uncluttered simplicity with portraits made of a palette of red, blue, black and white, featuring faces suspended in a galaxy of stars. Turning in reverses this pattern, and shows the universe inside a woman’s chest. Accompanied by text, it invites viewers to explore the universe within. Her work finds a fraternity in Aditya Raj, whose Wearing the Cosmos depicts a figure wearing socks, and whose upper half bursts with stars and clouds of colour.
Artwork by Renu Sharma
Artwork by Aditya Raj
Pulkit Mogha’s photographs are like those taken from a detective’s dossier. Pullouts from the artist’s Instagram account, these depict furtive moments of an encounter: the meeting, the lovemaking, the aftermath. Mogha’s documentary account of a meeting is subversive: it turns gazing and documenting – a means of control – into an erotic form.
Work by Pulkit Mogha
Featuring a woman sporting bright red oversized balls, alternately inside an underwear, and then hung low, artist Manmeet’s photography does not do justice to the title: Hidden. Meanwhile Amir Rabbani’s Immersed, with a minimal use of acrylics on canvas, depicts two lovers merging and melting together in a kiss, and in that moment also expresses the headiness of love.
Work by Manmeet
Artwork by Amir Rabbani
The art within these walls and stairwells has already found its ways into art collections and audience’s homes and offices. Finally, there is room to breathe. Me We provides that, and raises the bar for LGBTQ art exhibits. What it needs is to stop playing up to easy equations about LGBTQ community, to step out of making it a narrative about the purdah, or a tedious ball-game, or an over-busy work that burdens itself with making a statement. As artist Renu Sharma seems to suggest in a zen-like moment, go within. And all these works do, simply because all of these works represent a dance between boundaries or binaries, kangra and modern-day art, the space within and without, male and female, secret and shared, desire and control, opposites merging or emerging. They also come together in a space which allows these differences to occur, for works from artists of all predilections to speak to each other, for Bulleh Shah’s poetry and the artists’ own scribbled words to resonate within the same space. From the stairwell to the underground under Donald Trump’s forced smile, a force has gathered together, exploring the great in-between. This exhibition – Me We – is the universe within. Let it out!