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Sunil Gupta Turns Back Time; Showcases Queer Rights in 1980s London

If you consider yourself a vanguard of queer rights and have a passion for photography, the newest exhibition at the Vadehra Art Gallery will be your Mecca. The gallery unveils a special project by Indo–Canadian, London-based photographer Sunil Gupta titled ‘Come Out.’ The never-before-exhibited series of black-and-white photographs shot in London from 1985 to 1995 presents images from the growing pride movement in London. On view till 1 March 2024, the series has been published by Stanley Barker in London.

Courtesy – Vadehra Art Gallery

Sunil Gupta uses photography to engage with post-modernist, post-colonial activities of identity politics and public life particularly concerning queer experiences. His oeuvre expresses an impulse to re-centre marginalized accounts that tend to exist on the periphery of the socio-cultural fabric of historical and contemporary cities and narratives. Born and raised in Delhi, growing up in Montreal, and then working in New York City, Gupta’s eventual move to London in the 1980s establishes an ever-more expansive cultural field of insight vis-à-vis queer studies, migration, racism, sexuality and the politics of person, supported by the autobiographical weight of his own experiences, which are passionate concerns the artist has remained committed to over his decades-long career. 

Courtesy – Vadehra Art Gallery

In England in the 1980s and 1990s, under Margaret Thatcher’s reigning government, queer communities and other sub-cultures were practically denied or rendered invisible from mainstream society. If laws recognized homosexuality at all, they were denigrated as ‘pretended family relationships’ and cruising, which is a colloquial term taken from urban queer experiences, was charged as prostitution or solicitation. Particular laws such as Clause 28 made it illegal for town halls to fund any cultural activities that may be promoting them. During this time, the queer community in London took to peaceful protesting often joining other causes enveloping the city such as women’s rights marches or the miners’ protests, etc. In ‘Come Out’, Gupta returns to the public sphere as a site of performance and power and celebrates the rise in the visibility of gay life in the eighties and nineties in England. 

Courtesy – Vadehra Art Gallery

As part of this special presentation, Vadehra Art Gallery includes authentic audio testimonies documenting the journey of various cultural figures and individuals from the Indian queer community on the subject of “coming out”, a seminal experience for many especially while living under repressive laws and cultures where homosexuality is often still treated as a taboo subject. These voices are adapted from ‘Dissent and Desire’ by Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh (2018), which was presented previously as a photographic installation at the 2018 Kochi–Muziris Biennale. Additionally, the programming will include a series of film screenings proposed by the artist Sunil Gupta and his partner, Charan Singh, exploring queer experiences from various aesthetic, regional and philosophical lenses. 

Courtesy – Vadehra Art Gallery

About Sunil Gupta

Born in 1953 in New Delhi, Indian–British–Canadian photographer Sunil Gupta has an MA from the Royal College of Art, London, and a PhD from the University of Westminster, London. Gupta has been involved with independent photography as a critical practice for over five decades, focusing on race, migration and queer issues. His work is in many private and public collections. Sunil Gupta won the Kraszna-Krausz Photobook Award (2021) for ‘From Here to Eternity’. The artist lives and works in London, UK.

About Vadehra Art Gallery

Vadehra Art Gallery was established in 1987 with a passion for pioneering South Asian art around the world. Their comprehensive programming takes the form of frequent exhibitions at two prominent locations in Delhi, alongside art events, engaging conversations and a growing digital platform. The gallery ventured into publishing in 1996, in addition to contemporaneously producing literature on ongoing exhibitions and artist projects.

Image Courtesy – Vadehra Art Gallery

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