In 2008, Autograph commissioned Sunil Gupta to create new work in response to the human rights issues surrounding Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This law, instituted by the British in 1660, criminalised homosexuality, and led to the arbitrary arrest and exploitation of gay, bisexual and transsexual Indians. Section 377 was not overturned until 2018.
Sunil produced a series of photographs The New Pre-Raphaelites
for the commission. Radhika Singh writes of this work in his text Pre-Raphaelites Re-Visited: Narratives of a Gay Life:
Sunil Gupta’s series of 10 images deals with the ‘truths’ of posturing gay couples, single men and women, and families posing romantically between the cutting edge of desire and passion.
An unwieldy combination of symbolism and realism, the photographs are filled with the intense luminosity of mythology while concentrating on models (real people) who occupy the spaces of criminal intent within the lines of Section 377. Exotically coloured backdrops highlight brilliant costumes, and sometimes nude bodies with a precise devotion to detail that is magnetic.
By his own admission, Sunil has evolved into working with the entire gender canvas to include those other protagonists of this struggle. The women portrayed in this series are living in the shadows of the gay movement, free of the criminality of sodomy, but hunted down by society and even burnt alive by their families who would rather bury them than face ostracism."
Works from The New Pre-Raphaelites will feature in Spectrosynthesis II - Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in November 2019. Organised by the Sunpride Foundation, the exhibition is the largest-ever survey of regional contemporary art that explores lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer creative history in Southeast Asia and beyond. More than 50 artists are included in the show.
Supporting the creation of new work is an important facet of Autograph's mission, and we are proud to see Sunil's powerful photographs included in Spectrosynthesis II.