December 01, 2018


By Neha Kirpal

Recently, an art exhibition was held for LGBTQ+ persons at the LaliT hotel in New Delhi. The artwork included paintings, sculptures, drawings, printmaking, photography, mixed media and installations. The theme for 2018 was Refracted Lives. The exhibition was curated by InsideOut, a volunteer LGBTQ+ organisation of Indian and expat professionals and diplomats based in New Delhi, supporting health, human rights and the arts through cultural exchange. The exhibition was in association with the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a registered charity that works to create a just and equitable society by transforming individuals from socially and economically excluded communities into agents of change. 

Refraction is the bending of light as it passes from one transparent substance to another. Just as light is refracted, so too the lives of LGBTQ+ people bend to the rules of society and the expectations of family and friends. They often respond to the forces of religion, family and the law by bending or subjugating their own needs, desires and goals. They may appear to be what they are not, or even become what they do not want to be. Entrants in this year’s competition explored this sense of refraction through the prism of their own lives. 

Prizes were awarded to the best three pieces as ranked by the judging panel, consisting of National Design Editor with The Times of India Group Manoj Bhramar, award-winning conceptual artist Vibha Galhotra, Minister Commercial at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi Leonie Muldoon, Assistant Curator at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi Argha Kamal Ganguly and Associate Director Ojas Art Devyani Sahai. Talking about the exhibition, Ganguly said, “It gives artists an opportunity to express, talk, resonate, experience, breathe and react naturally. Slowly but consistently these efforts will help us to be more inclusive to gay artists. We will soon recognize these people as our fellow friends, travellers, sisters and brothers … and mostly as human beings.”

The first-place prize of Rs 100,000 was awarded to Delhi-based Geeta Sharma for her work ‘Togetherness’. Talking about her work, Geeta says that love knows no boundaries. “You can see two faces in my work but you can’t explain whether the faces are of girls or boys. My work reflects the emotions that define the freedom of being what you are, the satisfaction of being free from the fear of your reality. It explains how eyes full of love inspire you to let your identity fly,” she says.

The second-place (Rs 50,000) winner was Dharamshala-based Suvajit Mandal for his work ‘Jamal Kamali’. Spirituality and love has always been the subject of Suvajit's art. He says that going against his family's expectations and making art his career was tough. “Love is mystic when based on spiritual grounds. I took the subject of the love between the Sufi saint Jamali and his partner Kamali. I wonder how both of them refracted from the straight path and found love in each other on a spiritual Sufi base, spreading the seven colours in all directions, while completely ignoring what society and religion thought,” he says.

The third-place award was a tie between two Delhi-based artists, who will split the Rs 25,000 prize. They are Adil Kalim (for ‘Dreamland’) and Ashish Verma (for ‘Metamorphosis’). Adil’s work mirrors the challenges he has come across since childhood. “The moment I realized myself as belonging to a marginalized community, it evoked me to portray the social tensions and struggles in my journey of life,” he says. 

Ashish talks about the plight of the LGBTQ community that for years has been repressed, coerced and bullied to do things they do not want to do. “Through my artwork, I depict a 'straight' jacket representing the sexual orientation, which we are incessantly egged on to follow,” he says. He explains further that the black and white monochrome colours in his work represent wings shedding black and white feathers, as new feathers emerge eventually turning the wings into a burst of rainbow colours—rays of hope, signifying the metamorphosis ready to take a flight of freedom.

Based on votes by attendees at the opening night gala, the People’s Choice Award (?50,000) went to Delhi-based Aditya Raj for his work “Mind the Gap.” Aditya, who grew up in an orthodox Hindu household, felt trapped until he discovered the Delhi metro. He says that the last carriage in each metro and the toilets at the station are spots for men to meet. While there is freedom, there is also anonymity on the metro, he adds. And so, every time Aditya took the metro, he would transform. “I would pass through the point of refraction and become openly queer, no longer hiding my sexuality from the world—no longer afraid to be me,” he adds.

After the week-long exhibition in New Delhi, finalists have been given the opportunity to showcase their work at an exhibition in Sydney. A partnership with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will see their work hung in the National Arts School as part of the Mardi Gras Festival to be held from February 15 to March 1, 2019.  

Through the competition, InsideOut aims to educate broader society about the experience of being LGBTQ in India, and to expose the selected artists to a wide audience of buyers, galleries and agents. The organisation is also promoting India’s LGBTQ+ artists to an international audience. “This exhibition represents a turning point for LGBTQ artists in India and our show in the week leading up to the New Delhi Pride is the perfect way to celebrate the demise of Section 377 and turn our energies to the future – we hope it will make a real difference in the lives and careers of the artists who enter,” said InsideOut media spokesman Shivraj Parshad.

One of the largest LGTBQ arts and cultural festivals in the world, Mardi Gras attracts high profile international artists and performers, and culminates in a giant street parade that attracts a crowd of hundreds of thousands from Australia and overseas. “Taking the exhibition to Australia will provide an extraordinary opportunity for the work of these fantastic artists to be seen by a global audience,” said InsideOut Art Prize Coordinator, Stevie Clayton. “Mardi Gras is an iconic event for LGBTQ people from around the world and this partnership will put Indian artists on centre stage,” he added.