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Indian Art  
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The remoteness between the figures is tangible in her painting "Three Girls" (oil on canvas, 1935). Sher-Gil suspends the interactive potential of the group by locking the individuals in silence.

This is also the case with "Hill Women" (1935), which depicts a silent group walking to market, and "The Swing" (1940). Although the women in these works are bathed in luminous tones of red, in spite of their activity and the brilliant color the painting emits a timeless calm.

Solid silence also hangs suspended in the painting "The Bath" (1940), which depicts a solitary female nude wrapped in privacy by a temporary cloth shield, yet exposed to the artist and viewer.

Vivan Sundaram interprets Sher-Gil's painting "Two Girls" (1939) as one in which the physical and emotional longing of two women for one another is tangible.

Although homoeroticism is never explicit in Sher-Gil's paintings, the distance of the figures from one another is remarkably reminiscent of the remoteness expressed in Khakhar's early paintings and may constitute a code for the depiction of homosexuality within an oppressive society. We can only speculate how Sher-Gil would have further developed her art had she lived longer.


Although homosexuality, gender-bending, cross-dressing and third-gender expression has always had a place in Indian art and culture, today homosexuality in south Asia is deplored by fundamentalists as a Western import. However, it is clear that many of India's favorite gods embraced and celebrated diversity.

Perhaps individuals whose sexual expressions differ from that of the majority can draw strength and inspiration from these roots. There may also be reason to hope for greater tolerance for sexual minorities in India. The recent election of a hijra as mayor in Uttar Pradesh may be a harbinger of increased respect for sexual diversity.

Eve Millar

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social sciences >> Overview:  Buddhism

Buddhism is unusual among world religions in that it generally expresses neutrality on the issue of homosexuality.

literature >> Overview:  Chinese Mythology

Chinese mythology is rich in stories about homosexuality.

literature >> Overview:  Chinese Mythology

Chinese mythology is rich in stories about homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Female impersonation need say nothing about sexual identity, but it has for a long time been almost an institutionalized aspect of gay male culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Hinduism

The dominant religion of modern India, Hinduism is no longer as tolerant of same-sex sexual relations as it seems to have been in the past.

social sciences >> Overview:  India

Indian thought towards same-sex eroticism and gender variance was more tolerant in the past than it is today.

arts >> Overview:  Islamic Art

The apparent invisibility of homosexuality in the visual arts of Islam is no indication of its absence in the culture.

social sciences >> Hijras

The Hijras--men who dress and act like women--have been a presence in India for generations, maintaining a third-gender role that has become institutionalized through tradition.

arts >> Khakhar, Bhupen

Contemporary Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar has earned an international reputation for paintings that are explicitly homosexual in theme, but that also address universal human needs.


Bussagli, Mario. 5000 Years of the Art of India. New York: Harry N. Abrams, [ca 1990].

Craven, Roy. Indian Art. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Dehejia, Vidya. Indian Art. London: Phaidon Press, 1997.

Desai, Devangana. Erotic Sculpture of India. New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill, 1975.

Desai, Vishakha et al., Contemporary Art in India. Traditions, Tensions. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.

Lal, Kanwar. Erotic Sculpture of Khajuraho. New Delhi: Asia Press, 1970.

Lerner, Martin. The Flame and the Lotus. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1984.

Nanda, Serena. Neither Man nor Woman. The Hijras of India. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1990.

O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical Beasts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Randhawa, M. S. Kangra Paintings on Love. New Delhi: Patiala House, 1994.

Rawson, Philip. The Art of Tantra. London: Thames and Hudson, 1973.

Sundaram, Vivan. Amrita Sher-Gil. Bombay: Marg Publications, 1972.

Thadani, Giti. Sakhiyani. London: Cassell, 1996.

Vanita, Ruth and Saleem Kidwai. Same-Sex Love in India. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Watts, Alan. Erotic Spirituality. London: Collier-Macmillan, 1971.

Wilhelm Das, Amara. "Tritiya-Prkriti: People of the Third Sex."

Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1946.".".


    Citation Information
    Author: Millar, Eve  
    Entry Title: Indian Art  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 19, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
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    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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