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.