Project Description

Zoom In

Exhibition Review

PhotoMail constructively and
Critically zooms into
The life and work of photographers
Its art and techniques
Contemporary theory
Aesthetics, material philosophy and

Special Editorial review of
Homomorphism Two
Group Show of 7 artists at
Madhavan Nair Foundation
Art Gallery, Ernakulam
14th July 2018 – 21st July 2018

Homomorphism II | Group show by LGBTQ community at MNF | Review
Smile, Sparks and Male-Male intimacy, Photography © Jijo Kuriakose

Homomorphism Two

Homomorphism II opened at the Madhavan Nair Foundation’s art gallery, adjacent to Museum of Kerala History, on July 14th in the presence of a healthy gathering composed predominantly of, one assumes, those in solidarity with the LGBTQ movement and art enthusiasts; the group exhibition is conceived as an expression of the layers of same-sex intimacy which have been pushed under the blanket by the prevalent sexual norms. Involving seven queer artists from different urban centres, the show features a range of media, both digital and traditional, and can boast a presentation and ambience that is quite professional. The show ended on July 21st.

Before going on to the images themselves, it is necessary to recognize the gathering – the show itself, even – as a distinctly ritualistic phenomenon. There was a tribe-like quality to the crowd, the members of whom were quite comfortable being in the gathering and many of whom seemed to be unfamiliar with the language of certain artworks (an inference drawn from watching the crowd and listening to a few conversations), but seemed to be there in order to participate in the occasion. Here, the show touches on a primordial quality of art itself – many art forms began as, and some still survive as, rituals. Consciously or not, the exhibition has chosen to engage with a tradition which insists that art should be a social phenomenon, in which individual experiences occur. The nature of the crowd that had gathered was revealed, with no doubts spared, to be one that was participating in the social occasion. Needless to say, the occasion has opened up possibilities for a group of people to become familiar with the form and language of various media.

The talks by the chief guests were about the individual, however. Art historian and professor Kavitha Balakrishnan spoke about the individual’s right to express multiple genders and sexualities, linking her own experience of watching Koodiyattom (involving Ardhanareeswara) with her discovery of how different genders could exist in the same body, and this led to the keyword being introduced – performance. She went on to describe the importance of the concept of performance in the shaping of our identity. Ms. Rekha Raj quickly established that her own conception of the LGBTQ movement had no links to anything mythological, and that it was “postmodern”. The aspects about the individual’s rights and about performance were more or less reiterated by Ms. Rekha, and while bemoaning the alienation being faced by the community, she ironically happened to address a certain political party and its followers as an alien group. Ms. Aditi, a trustee for Madhavan Nair Foundation, went into anecdotal details regarding the show and the gallery.

The element of performance is easily discernible in many of the works displayed, and many of the performances are related to the sexual act. Men engaged in sexual intercourse are a dominant subject in the works of Jijo Kuriakose, Arvin Ombika and Mahesh M, while Pragya Pallavi’s works are almost solely devoted to images of lesbian sex. Apart from this, the phallus is present, as an icon, everywhere in Santanu Dutta’s and Jijo Kuriakose’s drawings. Arvin’s and Santanu’s works held overbearing influences of past and present trends of Santinikethan, where they have stayed and worked.

Under this explicit level of performance that is the performance of sexual acts, the two artists who have employed photographs touched upon the subtler performative aspects of life itself, and have engaged with those aspects. Jijo Kuriakose’s photographs of the male body are deliberately curated so that they do not offend a viewer with a Victorian concept of morality, and have no nudes on display. This is in stark contrast to the overbearing presence of phallic symbols throughout the rest of the works, and points to the privilege that photography enjoys as a medium that is closest to reality, in the mind of the artist and the viewer. In any case, the photographs on display do not attempt to seem to be truthful, and are ostensibly framed so as to emphasize the performance that the model(s) is enacting for the camera, and these performances are notable for their comfort and easiness; by extension, they are notable for the sense of togetherness among the photographer and the models, and they also function as a celebration of domesticity. Sandeep T K’s short video document of himself carrying a chair as he walks towards the camera in a beach, is quite obviously a performance itself. His photobook, however, projects this performativity onto a chair – and the chair begins to perform a role for him. Notably, Sandeep is one of the three artists in the exhibition with a formal background in the arts, and one of the two (alongside Aishwaryan K) who have worked with subjects which are not limited to sexuality.

Aishwaryan K’s prints and paintings follow a few of the different kinds of self-exploratory works that are found in modern art, and are well-crafted – especially a print in which he identifies as an owl. He creates images of himself (the identity is left ambiguous to the viewer) or objects he can identify with, and projects feelings and ideas onto them.

Image 1: Untitled, Pencil and water color on paper © Mahesh | Image 3: Gayrala', Micron pen and water color on Bond Paper © Jijo Kuriakose
Image 1: Untitled, Pencil and water color on paper © Mahesh | Image 3: Gayrala', Micron pen and water color on Bond Paper © Jijo Kuriakose
Image 1: Untitled, Pencil and water color on paper © Mahesh | Image 3: Gayrala’, Micron pen and water color on Bond Paper © Jijo Kuriakose

The artworks fall under three distinct categories – ones which use a pop language and overt symbols to achieve maximum communication, ones which grapple with traditional form and language but continue to emphasize communication, and ones which follow established formal practices. This fact naturally prompts a question – how does this group (and those in solidarity) engage with art itself? Is this a gathering of likeminded people legitimized by the institution called art, or is this a genuine attempt to increase queer participation in the art field? Does the show aim to communicate to a large audience, or to a niche, informed one? In case of the former, why weren’t more popular media and formats picked?

And then, there were a few details that were baffling. How is it that the inspection of performance is central in the art works, but outside them there is a noticeable conformity in the fashion and behaviour of the group? Why was the iconography largely limited to market products, symbols of the state and pop icons (such as a diluted version of Buddhism, Primitivism etc)? Why was the signature style of K G Subrahmanyan invoked? Why did an artist trained in Santinikethan make references to Plato and Magritte?In spite of the prevalent postmodern notions of sexuality as not being just limited to sex itself, why was there a near-obsession with the phallus? What is postmodern sexuality? Is it ultimately a repackaging of the notions put forward by Freud?

The key perhaps lies in treating it not as a group show, but as a show of seven individuals. In this case, the queerness of the seven artists becomes somewhat incidental, and we are instead able to understand the art according to the aforementioned three categories. Over this layer of aesthetic sensibility, a narrative pertaining to activism has been laid which gives meaning to the gathering. This narrative was centred on the Supreme Court’s and the central government’s views on homosexuality. The individual artists hardly ever subscribe to postmodern forms and techniques, which explains the inconsistency between the philosophy of sexuality and the formal depiction that the artists have undertaken. The exception to this is Sandeep, who does not engage with sexuality at all. The seven artists are better defined by their class status and social background perhaps.With no curatorial note or introduction, however, it is difficult for a viewer to discern this. Yet, a note on postmodernity is due here, since it is the umbrella under which the show has been organized.

The indefinability of postmodernism has prompted a lot of confusion as to what it really is, and what it really is (if at all it is anything) does not matter when placed against what people believe it to be. Postmodernism continues to be largely evoked to prove the inability of individuals to fully agree with other realities, to underline the fluidity and permissibility of identities, and to reject all metanarratives. Here, it itself resembles a metanarrative; one that limits the ideas of philosophy and politics to oneself, and subtly pushes through the neoliberal values that are now being unquestioningly accepted. It is imperative that any postmodern movement today should describe its own economic and political philosophy and its own historic position, and this facet of the LGBTQ movement has become totally invisible. In a country where two women or two men walking together is not frowned upon, from where does the need for freedom arise? And, what does images of two men laughing together or lying on the lap of the other symbolize? It is unclear what history (history is not to be confused with mythology) is being addressed by this movement; where does their oppression come from? Is it a longstanding oppression? How does the movement envision a way out? Connected to these questions is the way the movement uses art – is art to be treated as an illustrative medium which merely uses symbols to communicate ideas? Or should queer artists address art traditions? Should art be limited to relatable narratives, or should it function as a medium which helps overcome alienation? The exhibition, in its defence, did not seek to answer such questions. We are placing these questions against it.

The LGBTQ community has found for itself public spaces in urban regions. We will wait and see what they want to tell the world from that space. After all, solidarity with the cause does not mean solidarity with the acts, and it is time for the community to begin to act convincingly. This exhibition is a good starting point (although there has been a previous one in 2015 in the same series), and further on, there is a desperate need for clarity on the part of the activist-artists.

Published on July 22, 2018


Home » Portfolio » Zoom In » Exhibition Review » Homomorphism II

Related Articles


Mallaahs, the boatmen of Gangetic geography, A Photo Art series by Shibu Arakkal

Review of Mallahs, the boat of Gangetic geography, photographic series of Shibu Arakkal. For several hundred years these boatmen on the Ganga and the Yamuna have handed down their oars from father to son. I was intensely drawn to the purpose of their lives, to carry people back and forth on these rivers. Almost married to their boats, these men. To live almost all of their lives on these wooden vessels, going about their worldly chores and belonging to a tribe of menfolk, they pride themselves on being the real caretakers of these mystical rivers. Almost as if they are born on these boats and just as possibly may breath their last on it, the Mallaah men live lives removed from their families and children.


In search of the lost home

Across the world there are ongoing attempts to construct a ‘people’s history’ through photographs. Memory Projects, they are fondly called, focus mainly on the pre-digital era when photography was not as common as today. Bengali photographer Anandarup Goswami’s photography series ‘A Home of No Return’, though not directly linked with any memory project, shows certain resemblances with the latter’s style, and yet carries its own soul. A Home of No Return visually narrates the past and the present through a mixture of faded and fresh photographs.


Homomorphism II

The LGBTQ community has found for itself public spaces in urban regions. We will wait and see what they want to tell the world from that space. After all, solidarity with the cause does not mean solidarity with the acts, and it is time for the community to begin to act convincingly. This exhibition is a good starting point, and further on, there is a desperate need for clarity on the part of the activist-artists.


Elements and Fragments, Uncovering Narratives of a Temple Town

Inasmuch, every photographer that ever visited Tiruvannamalai never took notice about anything other than Ramana and the Annamalaiyar temple – their eyes glossing over everything else and their focus devoted entirely to the two ‘divine’ icons. But, there remains a Tiruvannamalai beyond, which has gone unnoticed and undocumented – invisible to the colonial gaze that is pre-occupied with its exotic fairy tales, and underwhelming for the photojournalist due to its perceived mundane-ness.