Photo subjects Khiyanur (left) and Akshara seem to say, “We’re here, we’re queer.”
SUNIL GUPTA at Stephen Bulger Gallery (1026 Queen West), to July 18. 416-504-0575. Rating: NNNN
It might not be evident at first glance, but the young Indians staring out intently from the streets of Delhi in Sunil Gupta's large-format colour portraits are all making the same statement: "I'm here, I'm queer."
It's an act of some courage in a nation where homosexuality is still illegal. The veteran photographer, who's documented gay life, among other subjects, in New York, London and India since the 70s, has only recently found individuals in his hometown willing to pose openly. He calls this series Mr. Malhotra's Party, a reference to a common name used to reserve rooms for the private functions where gays and lesbians gather.
By placing them in public spaces - on shopping streets, in a park, in the middle of traffic, with blurred figures hurrying by behind them - Gupta conveys the sense that his subjects are both part of and apart from their society.
Their tantalizing presence makes you long to engage them in conversation. The determined Akshara stands before a gas station communicating that she's taking no shit from anyone. Diepriye, a man with African features, seems confident in his sexuality, slightly tilting his hips before a shop selling red-and-white military regalia.
A portrait of intense, questioning teenager Khiyanur in a street under construction links changing gender identity with the upheaval of modernization on the Subcontinent. Raju, cellphone in hand, poses in front of a shuttered shop with a bemused, self-deprecating expression as if laughingly saying "Yeah, I'm one. So what?"
These subtle works are full of life, vivid portraits of queer reality in a specific time and place. The show by a master photographer adds depth and breadth to Pride celebrations in our multicultural city.