[NSFW] Contemporary Artists Producing sexually liberating artworks in India

by | Jul 10, 2021

Art has been an inexplicable part of our culture and it’s rendezvous with mankind dates back to as long as one can imagine. A form of expression, art is also seen as the reflection of society and a radical way of challenging existing realities. Typically, when an artist is inspired, they develop and produce an original body of work that is rooted in their unique perception. The creative process that translates thoughts to form, can sometimes take years at a stretch.

Historically speaking, art has served as an uncensored means of expression, in which nudity, erotica, and intimacy have been considered permissible. 

The 1960s and 70s was an era where art moved in radical new directions. As a visual language, art has an “extensive vocabulary” allowing for ambiguity and fluidity within the scope of sexual identity and provides with a safe place to explore sexuality and potential inner erotic desires that might otherwise be unsafe to explore verbally.

India is known to have a culturally liberating and sexually-charged history. The ancient scriptures of The Kama Sutra and the erotic carvings across Khajuraho Temples (UNESCO World heritage Site) proves to be some of the exempalary instances of India’s vibrant and inclusive cultural norms, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality.  

In contemporary scene, today, the Indian judiciary & society at large is at the forefront of acceptance towards alternate sexualtiies & non-conforming lifestyles. Activism in support of human rights continues to provide inspiration (and voice) to young Indian artists. Despite this, sexual artworks become part of controversial stories without any intention of being one in the first place.

Then one might ask, despite the progressive anecdotes from the past, what influences contemporary artists in India? To discern perspectives and delve deeper, we profiled 4 contemporary artists working with themes including gender, sex & sexuality.

Despite the controversies associated, the artists producing provocative artworks find their inspirations from the fabric of self. 

1. Lipika Bhargava 

Lipika Bhargava is a multi-media artist working across photo-collage, sculpture, performance, video, textile, and 2D & 3D paintings. 

Delhi based Lipika’s work oscillates between reality and fiction. She likes to doodle characters portraying them in simple nostalgic settings. Lipika draws inspiration from details of intricacies around her such as situations in her personal life and the socio-political climate. She beautifully combines the prevailing thoughts and gets them to break each piece of thought into further sets of imagery to construct a narrative about the theme. 

Lipika’s inspirations are well presented in her artworks. Take a closer look at her work here: 

2. Theegulla Venkanna

Sexual imagination is the predominant subject in T. Venkanna’s works that questions, argues and confronts the stereotypical ways associated with understanding and defining sexuality. Having showcased at various solo shows and exhibitions, nationally and internationally, Venkanna draws his inspirations from the yesteryear artists as well as certain specific forms of traditional art.

Venkanna has always attempted to create space to de-sexualize the ‘sexual’ evil which has been repressed with our imagination, expression and feeling. He relates and understands the very personal dimension where one feels lonely and subjected to various ‘sexual’ intention that creates the language of sex and works towards tackling the resistance and resisting agencies causing sexual violence or violating the premise of sex gender.

The political and social contexts underlying these works have been quite different when they were made. Venkanna re-presents these images according to his idea by critically evaluating the norms and terms that exist within contemporary society. His continued persistence with the subject has induced his interest to explore image–making in different forms of media that includes drawing, painting, sculpture, installation and performance.

His artworks speak volumes about his thought process and understanding of the art. We collated some of his artworks which include- ‘Living-Doll’, ‘Money Plant’, and ‘Return to Innocence’. 

He believes that “sexual behaviour of human beings is habituated by societal norms and conditions due to which sexual fantasy gains dominance in the brain and an individual achieves extreme pleasure out of this simple act of day-dreaming, wherein they escape from reality via an undisturbed and uninterrupted flight of imagination.”

3. Raqeeb Raza

Raqeeb is a multi-faceted artist from Kolkata, currently based in Delhi, India. Raqeeb’s professional research paradigm focuses on themes around migration, popular culture, and queer realities. As a photographer, he captures intimate portraits & intricacies of male sexuality.  

When asked for his source of inspiration, Raqeeb tells us that his work is an exploration and documentation of masculinity and intimacy in the Indian context. Through the medium of photography, he tries to destigmatize and normalize different bodies, irrespective of their size, shape, colour, and gender. This approach, according to Raqeeb, tries to challenge the notions of ‘perfectness’ popularized by the mainstream. He believes in the power of realism rather than the mysticism of aesthetics, and hence, tries to explore intimacy in its raw form without the sanitization of aestheticism. His work highlights his very belief and thought process that he chooses to put behind every photograph that he captures.

4. Nerissa Moraes

A self-taught artist and an aesthete based in Mumbai, Nerissa Moraes spends her afternoons immersed in colours or thinking about what to create next. Her journey as an artist started off with an idea to give her ‘close friends’ on Instagram an art exhibition as most of them have always wanted to see her work on a wall in a fancy room. Nerissa believes that art requires you to feel vulnerable, to put a piece of yourself out there and to shine in all your colourful brilliance despite what others may think.

It was during the Covid-19 lockdown that Nerissa sat with herself and let her mind wander. Drawing the human form was not something she had tried before. It started with lesser details and then more, and then some more until it grew into something that she became very passionate about. Nerissa’s thought process can be easily spotted in her artworks.

While each artist has their own take on producing  their bodies of work, the commendable fact is that despite the stereotypical society and circumstances in modern times, artists manage to draw inspirations from different facets of life. As we took a closer look at the artist and their artwork, we realise and accept that art has been and will continue to be an important form of expression, and the artists like Lipika, Theegulla, Nerissa, Raqeeb and many more make it evident that maybe, if the source of inspiration is driven by something within, the drive to express oneself becomes even stronger and what better way to do it than to put it in an art!

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