Sunil Gupta’s Pioneering Work at The Photographers’ Gallery

October 9, 2020

The queer desire has been repressed for a long time and in some societies across the globe, it is still considered a tremendous taboo, leading to prosecution and serious penalties in some countries. Nevertheless, since the decriminalization of sexual activity between men in the UK in 1967 and the Stonewall riots in the States in 1969, the LGBT+ community has now became more visible and their position in the society gradually got better.

At the end of the 1960s, being queer openly was considered risky due to the institutionalized, centuries-old homophobia. Some artists nevertheless felt empowered by the atmosphere of public rebellion and started exploring queerness in their works.

Sunil Gupta is perhaps the most prolific figure who has been continually seeking to question the notion of identity, race, migration, and sexuality for more than five decades. At the same time personal and political, his artistic practice had a major role in presenting the problems affiliated with the international gay rights struggle, the tensions between traditional and contemporary societies, as well as the context of the body politics.

Gupta’s first UK retrospective at The Photographer’s Gallery will feature all the major series from his pioneering works to never-before-exhibited ones.

Sunil Gupta - Untitled #22, 1976. From the series Christopher Street. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery © Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020

The Eye Of The Queer Beholder

After coming out as an Indian migrant in Montreal, Sunil Gupta fled to New York where he became active in the Gay Liberation Movement and took his first series around Christopher Street in Manhattan in 1976. The following decade was marked by the fascinating shots of Indian gays commissioned by The Photographers’ Gallery, that the photographer took in front of a backdrop of famous tourist sites in the series Exiles (1986-1987).

During the 1990s, after being diagnosed with AIDS, Gupta devoted himself to the movement by engaging in a more intimate, introspective mode of representation. No wonder the photographer gained critical acclaim and has become one of the central figures who inspired numerous photographers and LGBTQ+ rights advocates.

Sunil Gupta - Untitled #7, 2008. From the series The New Pre-Raphaelites. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery © Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020

The Exhibition Highlights

The works from sixteen series are displayed starting from the mentioned Christopher Street (1976) to the well-known From Here to Eternity (1999) produced following Gupta’s diagnosis as HIV positive in 1995.

Among the highlights is the series Memorials (1995) that commemorates the victims of homophobic hate crimes, as well as the one called Reflections of the Black Experience (1986) that deals with the representation of Black queers in London.

The visitors also have a chance to see The New Pre-Raphaelites (2008), a highly stylized series made to support the legal battle against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law introduced during the colonial era under which arrests and prison sentences for any homosexual act were conducted. The lavish images depicting South Asian gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals were made as a response to the sophisticated paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

Sunil Gupta - Untitled #11, 2008. From the series The New Pre-Raphaelites. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery © Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020

Sunil Gupta at the Photographer’s Gallery

Dr. Mark Sealy MBE (Autograph ABP, London) curated this survey in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery, London, and the Ryerson Image Centre (Toronto), while the same is accompanied by a new publication, and a rich program of online talks and workshops focused on the key themes and contexts present in Gupta’s practice.

From Here To Eternity: Sunil Gupta - A retrospective will be on display at The Photographers’ Gallery in London until 24 January 2021, and afterwards it will travel to the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto.

Featured image: Sunil Gupta - Untitled #9, 2010. From the series Sun City. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery © Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020.

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