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.