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Gupta, Sunil (b. 1953)  
 
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Mr. Malhotra's Party

Within a few years of his return, Gupta was delighted to notice the increasing visibility of queer people in Delhi. In 2007, he undertook Mr. Malhotra's Party to celebrate the emerging, new queer lifestyles.

This series of thirteen large color photographs (ranging in size from 42" x 28" to 42" x 42") show queer individuals in different kinds of public spaces in Delhi, including parks, highways, sidewalks, and shopping areas, among others. By depicting his subjects outside, Gupta literally outs them.

Sponsor Message.

The name of the series was inspired by a sign that Gupta saw posted outside a pub in Delhi, where gay nights frequently are advertised as private parties, hosted by a specific individual. About the series, Gupta has stated: "I envisaged the people in my pictures as guests in this imaginary coming out party. I liked the name 'Malhotra' as it's associated very much with the hard working post partition Punjabi refugee who helped to develop Delhi and give it its current character. It's very much a work about a particular city."

Although all the subjects are relatively young, they include men, women, and individuals of diverse social classes and ethnicities. None of the subjects are models; all are self-identified queer people who chose to have their portraits made by Gupta.

In Mr. Malhotra's Party, the subjects gaze confidently out at the viewer. Their upbeat mood frequently is emphasized by bright sunlight and strong colors, as, for example, Raju, in which the model is posed in front of a brightly decorated storefront roll-down gate.

Mr. Malhotra's Party makes a striking contrast with Exiles, which depicts men enacting scenarios revealing the furtiveness and difficulty of queer life in Delhi in the mid-1980s. The generally somber tonalities, averted gazes, and other formal component elements of the photographs in Exiles reinforces the emotionally dark mood.

In contrast, Mr. Malhotra's Party includes no references to sexual acts, however oblique. The sexual orientation of the subjects can be assumed, but it is not foregrounded as their primary identifying feature.

Although the last names of the subjects in Mr. Malhotra's Party are omitted, the titles accurately record their first names. Thus, the presentation of these images in public exhibitions attests to a new openness in India, although Gupta acknowledges that many glbtq people in India still do not want their full identities revealed.

The New Pre-Raphaelites

Perhaps the most provocative of Gupta's recent series, The New Pre-Raphaelites eloquently addresses complex identity issues in sumptuous visual form.

The series of thirteen photographs originated in 2008 as a commission from Autograph, London. From the start, both the artist and Autograph intended the series to support the legal battle against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Instituted by the British colonial government in 1860, this provision allowed arrests and prison sentences of up to ten years for any homosexual act.

In theory, the law encompassed both women and men, but, in recent decades, it was primarily enforced against working-class men. To the jubilation of India's queer communities, the Delhi High Court finally overturned Section 377 in July 2009.

The New Pre-Raphaelites can be understood as a highly original and distinctive contribution to the fight against an oppressive legacy of colonial rule. As in the Trespass series and other earlier projects, Gupta avoids any didactic and simplistic advocacy and evokes political issues in a complex and indirect way. It is perhaps ironic that Gupta found inspiration for his project in the work of a group of artists who came to prominence in the United Kingdom during the era when Section 377 was instituted.

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