SO, WHAT IS QUEER ART?

Review by Indira Lakshmi Prasad
September 01, 2018

 

ME WE
Curated by Myna Mukherjee, Engendered
June 26-July 8, 2018
American Center, New Delhi

Initially I never thought of my art as ‘Queer Art’.

I’m heterosexual; I identify as a straight woman. So when I was approached to take part in this exhibition, after the initial reaction of jumping at the opportunity, I began to think about whether this was a morally and ethically sound decision to participate in an exhibition highlighting LGBTQ art and issue based themes. Surely all the exhibitors should identify as Queer right? Then I realised that this wasn’t merely a case of the curator perhaps by mistake assuming I identify as queer as I began to ask myself; what exactly classifies as queer art?

‘Me We’ was organised to coincide with Pride Month, and featured works from a range of artists from newcomers to the renowned, the uniting factor being that each work is a representation of Queer art. The lower level of the American Center, New Delhi, was thoroughly utilized as the exhibition space – even the entrances to the loo’s and lift were used to incorporate works. From the first day of arriving to install work to the opening night the place was thoroughly transformed by around 70 artworks, and the fact it isn’t a purpose built gallery space adds to the aesthetic and concept. Young designer Sumiran Kabir Sharma’s sculptural representation of Shikandi, the gender shifting character from the Mahabharata, was playfully and fittingly placed between the signs for the ladies and men’s restrooms.  Several works were placed underneath elevator buttons and intertwined with the first aid emergency kit. And of course – I wasn’t the only artist exhibiting that identified as straight. In fact the more I thought about it, my previous perception that ‘Art made by Queer artists = Queer Art’ seemed ridiculous.

The panel discussion also highlighted this question, of what the definition of Queer Art is. Panelists were Moderator Anuradha Mukherjee, Editor at India Today Group, Sonia Khurana, Artist, Aseem Chabbra, Film Curator at NYIFF, John Connolly the Creative Head at Ravish Kapoor Design Studio, Ram Rahman, Photographer, Curator, Cultural Activist and Founding member of SAHMAT, Myna Mukherjee, Curator & Cultural Producer Visual Arts/Performance/Film and director of Engendered and  Sumiran Kabir Sharma, creator of Fashion Designer Label Anaam and Silhouette Generation Artist. Most of the panelists did not have a clear idea of the definition of Queer Art, and it became clear that each individual had a slightly different perspective on the meaning of Queer based on life experiences and outlook. Sumiran Kabir Sarma commented; “Friends who want to have hot chai when it is 48 degrees outside are also queer,” highlighting that anyone could have ‘Queer’ aspects of their personality regardless of sexuality. On the other hand John Connolly commented that he initially had an issue with the term Queer, having experienced the term through school bullying. One of the take-home points was that art did not necessarily need to be created by Queer identifying individuals to be classed as Queer art. All art created by Queer identifying people is not necessarily ‘Queer Art’; great number of designers and artists may well be Queer but create work which has no emphasis at all on gender, sexuality and equality. The reverse of this is also true.

Perhaps it’s the portrayal of alternative attitudes towards sexuality and gender which could be the defining factor, maybe even the unifying factor, in a movement which is made up of so many diverse individuals. In the context of this exhibition, the works are most definitely unified by their representation of gender, sexuality and identity which defies social norms. In this instance the definition of Queer becomes a backlash against an oppressive, conscripted set of identity norms. In another instance the meaning may differ. But then maybe the beauty of defining art as ‘Queer’ is the fluidity of it.