In 2008, Autograph commissioned Sunil Gupta to create new work in response to our human rights agenda, with reference to issues surrounding Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This law, instituted by the British in 1861, criminalised homosexuality, and led to the arbitrary arrest and exploitation of LGBTQ+ Indians. Section 377 was not overturned until 2018, following decades of grassroots activism.
For the commission, Gupta produced The New Pre-Raphaelites, a series of 10 photographs which take their starting point from historical paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites, a collective of English artists and reformists founded in 1848. The staged photographic works recreate the vivid colours and strong physical presences of Pre-Raphaelite paintings but, as Gupta states, "I've updated them to reflect contemporary queer culture in India."
The New Pre-Raphaelites and some of Gupta's other projects undertaken in India, such as Mr Malhotra's Party, commit to representing a broad range of issues around gender and sexuality. The works reflect what Gupta saw as a "greater fluidity across gender and LGBTQ+ boundaries" in India than in the West.
"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."
— Radhika Singh, Pre-Raphaelites Re-Visited: Narratives of a Gay Life
More than 10 years since Autograph commissioned the works, The New Pre-Raphaelites are still widely exhibited, including in Gupta's major, internationally touring retrospective From Here to Eternity.
Sunil Gupta (b. 1953, New Delhi, India/Canada/UK) was educated at the Royal College of Art, London, England, and received a PhD from the University of Westminster, England. His work uses independent photography as a critical practice, focusing on race, migration, and queer issues.
Gupta is a Visiting Tutor at the Royal College of Art and was the Lead Curator for the 2018 Fotofest in Houston, USA. His work can be found in many private and public collections, including the George Eastman Museum (Rochester, USA), the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (Japan), the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Canada), the Tate (London, England), and the Museum of Modern Art (New York, USA).
You can follow the artist on Instagram and see more of Gupta's work on his website.
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Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list