The art and the platform on which it is presented have always shared a symbiotic relationship. With the boom of social media over generation Y and onwards, art has adopted a different perception amongst viewers; one which is more accessible and affordable, and amongst creators; one which is egalitarian, diverse, and most importantly, uncensored. The visual and aesthetic appeal, and the creator-friendly interface of Instagram have attracted artists from a wide range – filmmakers, writers, designers, painters, photographers; and India is not exclusive of this.
An unrestricted wave of scrutiny and defiance has taken over a large section of the Indian youth, where they are engaging with questions which haven’t been asked for too long. Amongst artists, a significant number of queer persons have taken to social media to present their struggles and perceptions through their art. They refuse to succumb to the norms which are limited to binaries and heterosexuality, and have risen to express their queerness, and the intersectionality of being queer in a third-world country through their fine aesthetic skills.
Here are 11 queer artists from India you must check out!
Deepa Rodrigues – dpa.jay
“Art inherently has no value- the value we attach to art is perceived through our experience of it. Through art that asserts a particular part of the maker’s identity, viewers engage with that experience of life or engage with a part of their own identity through the maker’s life experience, and that’s where the value lies.”
Deepa grew up with a lot of literature, but it was the character of Golliwogs which made her realize the importance of diverse art as it was difficult to relate to the art she saw, because the closest thing to her was a fictional mythical racist character. She identifies as bisexual, and makes art as an attempt to explore her sense of self along with drawing connections to others’ experiences. She believes in the power of social media, and while she herself never felt the need to assert her identity, she understands the tangibility of it in supporting causes, especially the isolation of minorities. “We have to develop empathy for and acceptance of experiences we don’t understand and art has an important part in that.” she says.
Janine Shroff – janineshroff
“When something is left out of a certain sphere or a certain section of culture, it tends to be rendered invisible, and from invisible it can then easily be thought of as non-existent. It’s important that the cis-heterosexual perspective on life, art, pop-culture and from there on to politics isn’t just the ‘default standard’, that other view-points exist.”
Janine is a cis-lesbian whose current works are being inspired by Persian and medieval manuscripts, and Japanese woodblock’s margins, colour palettes, and its odd perspectives. Her other influences range from Mughal paintings to comics. She strongly believes that art and pop-culture have immense power to drastically change the way people view the world, and how they engage and treat fellow humans. She deems the existence of alternatives to the usual ‘defaults’ as extremely necessary, especially flamboyant and openly queer art.
“As a queer artist it’s also nice to have control over how we want to be represented and perceived.” she tells.
Veer Misra – v.eird
“Artists aren’t politicians; they get to be free to say what they want in the way they see fit. I think queer art is extremely honest, and can almost be understood as a time capsule of the age we’re in and the moments we’re living.”
Veer is a young gay artist whose art is divided between the desire to spread awareness, and his own experiences. Representation of his community, the injustices, and even triumphs, are portrayed in his works, where a significant part of it comes from his readings of new-age commentaries and think pieces which can invoke visuals in his mind. The other half is personal, based on his emotions and identity.
Veer deems the cross-pollination of media as significant with its own pros and cons. “While access and interaction with communities have eased, it is also true that we live in extremely turbulent times where privacy needs to be maintained while addressing certain themes.” The beauty of the space also comes with constant vigil.
Surya Shekhar – raahoull
Surya shared deep memories of his childhood, where he was confused about whether he is a woman trapped inside a male body, or his feminine characteristics are there to attract men. After a series of internal conflicts, he came out as a cis-gendered gay man.
Since he never received a formal education in art, all of it comes from interpretation. He is deeply moved by the contradictions of gender politics which is seen, where the women are worshipped as goddesses but treated inhuman. He is also influenced by the topic of mental health; how pop culture, media and technology has impacted our state of being. His art style consists of minimalism, modernism, and is currently exploring vintage, Kitsch, and pop-art, all of which is used to shed light on important issues.
His journey as an artist started when he was introduced to it by an artist friend, which further led him to know about artist Bhupen Khakhar who is known for his paintings around sexuality. “Khakhar further said “One can’t hide oneself behind a painting. It is standing naked in front of everyone – what you are.” he tells. Surya talks about the duality of queer art, where drag queens can be so encouraging and powerful, but at the same time, receive so much hate and pain. For him, art is intrinsic to one’s existence.
Rai – raixic
Rai is gender-fluid, and describes their influence as a combination of things they encounter, searchings, and a bit of the silly head.
While they acknowledge the importance of art in struggles and movements, a pertinent question is raised. According to them, the representations can often be stuck on specific aspects of life, leaving out the other minor but equally important ones. This limits the nature of representation and keeps us away from other facets of lives.
“I hope someday I’ll read a story about a mad evil villainous scientist who just happens to be gay and people won’t come to the conclusion that those descriptions are interconnected, or one thing leads to the other. You know what I mean?”
Debasmita Das – delicatefuckingflowers
You have already read about one of Debasmita’s influence (jasjyot) above (they’re in the same list!!!!). Others include the iconic Hannah Gadsby, Alison Bechdel, Sophie McPike, who fearlessly speak about the uncomfortable, deeply personal truths, as well as reclaim nudity in order to express and embrace their bodies.
“I think art allows us the LGBTQ+ to unapologetically take up space. It takes courage to be able to speak of our innermost struggles, of the personal in the political and art can be a more comfortable way to speak out about everything that isn’t easy to say out loud.” She believes that the way towards appropriate representation of her community is through queer artists shedding light on their struggles in a creative manner. Her own coming out process was greatly facilitated by the work she did, and made people understand and accept her identity as queer.
Priya Dali – priyadali
For Priya, her art, just like her lesbian identity, is unfiltered. It ranges from very personal thoughts to silly ideas to her mother, which she describes as an ‘entertainment package’. She believes in art’s power of making different perspectives come together to emerge as a medium for people to empathise, connect and educate themselves about communities with which they might not have a direct contact. A great deal of this is possible through the platform of social media.
“We all come in different shapes and sizes, and express our identities in different ways. Representation of this spectrum of identities through art re-emphasises the fact that we exist, and also acts a reminder of the fact that we’re all same yet very different and unique in our own ways.” she says.
Opashona Ghosh – opashona
Through her art, Opashona navigates the female experience, its emotional and physical landscape. “I draw influence from the challenging reality of being a queer woman to locate/dislocate/relocate my sense of self and of safety, with the aim to find positive narratives of belonging, kindness and vulnerability.”
Her art style reflects symbolism, emotions, and ‘the erotic’ as tools of expansion. When asked about the importance of queer art, she confesses that she always finds answering this question funny because of the unique and deep dividends which exist in India. Her broad answer is – “to ask all the sticky, uncomfortable and difficult questions.”
She strongly feels for the need of regionally visible content and access to knowledge, with an informed focus on intersectionality.
Ipshita Thakur – elctric
“Visual culture informs and plays an important role in how we see ourselves as a part of (or separate from) society, so art that is able to provide a mirror or expand our understanding of the times we live in ends up enriching our lives, even if it is in a small way.”
Ipshita has been identifying as a soft butch/lesbian but has recently tilted towards genderfluid. The intersections of cultural history, literature, gender and sexuality greatly interest her, where she draws influence from books, conversations, her loved ones as well as strangers at nonplaces*. Her latest works explore the dynamics between bodies and spaces, and how a queer person perceives and navigates through different spaces, especially in the times of restrictions, censorship, and police brutality.
She describes that art can be elitist when confined to limited spaces like galleries, the only antithesis being street art. But with the expansion of display platforms through internet, visibility or engagement across borders leads to a sense of feeling accepted for who one is (with all complexities) and secondly, provides a means to evolve and grow.
Anirban Ghosh – anirban_ghosh
Anirban is a cis-gay man, and tells that his influences work on a subconscious level – a discussion with a friend, a book that he read or a film that he watched. They slowly get processed in the back burner of his brain and one fine day show up a little more organized. His friends have told him that the visual style of Bengal and Kalighat paintings, with its flat, frontal representations, are reflected upon his works. Besides these, traditional artists like Egon Schiele and Hayao Miyazaki to contemporary artists like Joan Cornella and Robert Crumb inspire him to create status-quo challenging art.
Speaking about an advantage of a queer artist, he says, “Without meaning to stereotype, I must admit that the LGBTQ+ community is a very gifted community. Because we realized we are different from the rest in many aspects, we began observing the world more carefully, really early. Our stories are unique and nuanced.”
Priyanka Paul – artwhoring
Priyanka has already achieved success on global platforms through her striking art with powerful messages. She currently identifies as bisexual, and draws influence from the theme of social justice, through which she explores the intersections of identities and also her own sense of self.
“Art is everywhere, and for years only people in power (white cis men) got to dominate what art was or what art was made about. Even though queer people, trans people, women, queer women have been making important contributions since forever, have gone unaccredited through history because we were brain washed into thinking these stories are not important or are inferior”
She strongly emphasises on the true purpose of art – to tell stories in its greatest and truest potential. Art has the social responsibility of showcasing every single story and do justice to all kinds of experiences.