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arts

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Indian Art  
 
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Within the enclosed space, the high-caste woman, seated on a low platform, prominently displays her genitals and awaits the anointing of her privates by one of her female attendants. Apart from their jewelry, the women are naked and as one approaches the high caste woman's pubic area, another massages her arms, and a third brings oil as the maids look on.

Another painting from the Punjab and dated 1710-1725 is "The Absent Lovers." Depicted within an extremely shallow space, it shows five ethereal women in a garden. Having just finished bathing, they are nude from the waist up. They are all physically connected, but there appears to be an especially intimate relationship between three of them as they touch one another and gaze soulfully into each other's eyes.

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A painting from the Chamba school, at the end of the eighteenth century C.E., creates the illusion of more depth and also portrays women intimately involved with one another. In "Lady Suffering the Sorrows of Love," the lady lies on her bed where she is ministered to by female attendants who bring her tea, prepare food for her, massage her feet, fan her and caress her arms as the lady reaches back to touch one of the women's hand.

Krishna played numerous tricks on the gopis. A Kangra miniature from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century C.E., now in the National Museum, New Delhi, depicts an incident when Krishna hid all of the gopis' clothes while they were bathing. Only Krishna's blue feet are visible, for he is sitting in a tree, under which the women plead for their clothes.

However, a couple of women have remained in the water and seem to have forgotten all about their clothes, for they are engaged in oral congress.

Twentieth-Century C.E. Art

In spite of India's liberal sexual attitudes in the past, the antiquated British law making homosexual liaisons between men illegal is enforced in India today. Considering the recent outcry in India over the screening of the film Fire (1997), directed by Indo-Canadian Deepa Mehta, which depicts a scene of lesbian sex, it is no wonder that most homosexuals in India are deeply closeted.

Bhupen Khakhar

However, Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003) recently emerged as a gay Indian artist. His courage served as a source of inspiration for many others in the Indian gay art scene.

Khakhar joined the faculty of fine arts in Baroda in 1962. His early paintings depict images either of men by themselves or interacting; but whether they are alone or together, they all convey a sense of introspection, stillness, loneliness and inaccessibility.

Geeta Kapur notes the "uncanny sense of withdrawal in his otherwise social paintings." She describes the sensuousness in his tenderly modeled and brilliantly colored figures as "veiled, tremulous and diffuse," and speaks of the artist as being distanced.

After Khakhar visited Great Britain in the 1980s, he began making more explicit references to male homosexuality in his paintings. For example, "Two Men in Banares" (oil on canvas, 1982) depicts a sexual encounter between two men that takes place in an ambiguous, color saturated cityscape.

In "Yayati" (1987), Khakhar interprets a scene from the Mahabharata wherein an old, impotent king asks a youth for his virility by depicting the moment of transference just as their penises are about to touch.

"Green Landscape" and "White Angel," both watercolors from 1995, illustrate men engaged in a variety of homoerotic activities. "An Old Man from Vasad Who Had Five Penises Suffered from Runny Nose" (1995) shows a man swathed in a transparent orange material; his genitalia, with its multiple appendages, resemble a flower found only in dreams.

In 1995, Khakhar also painted "Sakhibav," an image of a hijra draped in transparent saris as s/he drinks tea.

Amrita Sher-Gil

Another artist whose work can be interpreted as queer is Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941).

Daughter of a mixed Sikh-Hungarian marriage, she moved to Paris in 1929 to study art. She had affairs with men, but also developed intimate friendships with Marie Louise Chassney, a painter in Paris, and with Edith Lang, a Hungarian pianist.

Amrita's parents destroyed her correspondence to these women after she married her Hungarian cousin Victor. She apparently entered into this marriage of convenience in order to escape dependence on her parents.

In 1934 the artist returned to India, where she evolved a painting technique inspired by the Buddhist cave paintings at Ajanta and by Mughal miniatures. Her paintings depict mostly women in scenes from rural India. Although they appear to be engaged in activity, the figures, reduced in form, emote a tangible stillness--a serenity, a melancholy, a passivity-- that contrasts greatly with the ebullience and activity of early Hindu and Buddhist sculptures of females.

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