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Gupta, Sunil (b. 1953)  
 
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The title of his series references the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an association of British artists founded in 1848 by Holman Hunt, Sir John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Opposed to restrictive academic formulae, the Pre-Raphaelites claimed that nature was their direct source of inspiration; their works are characterized by vivid colors and sharply focused details. They often dealt with lofty mythic themes and sought to infuse depictions of modern life with the spirituality associated with the medieval era. Yet, despite the boldness of their artistic goals, they often were socially conservative. Thus, they disdained their artistic follower Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) because of his Judaism and his homosexuality.

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In his comments, Gupta has emphasized his strong admiration for the commitment of the Pre-Raphaelites to visual truth and for the way "they used painting to express their situation." Gupta based each of the photographs in the series on a painting by a member of the Brotherhood or by one of their close followers. In his photographs, Gupta eloquently recreates the vivid colors, strong physical presence, and intense, mysterious moods of Pre-Raphaelite canvases.

Gupta has explained his appropriation and transformation of Pre-Raphaelite compositions: "I've updated them to reflect contemporary queer culture in India."

While respectful of the originals, Gupta's images are often subtly ironic and occasionally brazenly campy. Throughout the series, he inserts friends and associates into compositions devised by the Pre-Raphaelites and revises the settings to incorporate elements of the contemporary Indian environment.

He expands the Pre-Raphaelite pursuit of truth to encompass emotionally honest, positive, and sensual visualizations of South Asian gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals. In the process, he subverts racist and homophobic conventions and deconstructs Orientalist stereotypes.

Throughout The New Pre-Raphaelites, Gupta transforms tragic images into jubilant affirmations. Thus, for example, in Untitled no. 13, a transgender individual looks out boldly and confidently at the viewer. Her attitude contrasts with the aura of sexual repression in such quintessential Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Monna Pomona (Gupta's probable prototype), as well as his famous Beata Beatrice (both in the Tate Collection).

Untitled no. 9 well exemplifies Gupta's creative queer reinvention of Pre-Raphaelite compositions. Gupta based this photograph directly on Simeon Solomon's Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene (1864, Tate Collection). His use of this prototype is of special interest because of the importance of Solomon's painting for queer cultural history. Solomon exploited the theme of the famous ancient Greek poet Sappho embracing her supposed lover, Erinna, as a means to articulate his own commitment to same-sex love.

In Solomon's painting, the aggressiveness of Sappho's embrace of Erinna and of her apparent attempt to disrobe her companion far exceeded the acceptable limits of close friendship among Victorian women. The solemn and almost sorrowful expressions of Sappho and Erinna eloquently suggest the difficulties experienced by homosexuals in Victorian England.

In replacing European women in togas with South Asians in saris, Gupta blurs cultural boundaries and reveals how queer themes can resonate across diverse cultural and historical contexts.

In contrast to Solomon, Gupta infuses his image with intense joy. The woman on the left (Erinna in Solomon's composition) smiles contentedly as her lover gently removes her garment. Moreover, Gupta emphasizes the creation of alternative family structures through same-sex love by replacing the little deer in Solomon's painting with a child, who gazes boldly out at the viewer. Gupta wittily symbolizes the multiple changes involved in his revision of Solomon's painting by reversing the colors of the women's garments.

In some of the other photographs in the series, Gupta reveals resonances in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which almost certainly were not intended by the Victorian artists (even if they may have been perceived or imagined by earlier queer viewers).

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