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GFEST 2015: ‘Asian Future’ – exploring identities through portraits…

GFEST 2015: ‘Asian Future’ – exploring identities through portraits…

November 9 2015

As the curtain lifts on GFEST, which celebrates creativity (film, art performance) and different sexual identities, we talk to two artist-photographers, Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh about their work and their identity…

By Suman Bhuchar

SUNIL GUPTA is a legend: he is an artist, photographer, curator, activist and writer who has been working in the area of Black and South Asian politics for over three decades.

His work has been seen in over 90 solo exhibitions and he has written and published widely.

At GFEST: “Asian Future”, he is part of a group exhibition curated by Michael Petry; and the images selected are from a series, called “Love Undetectable” (2009), a project he made in India.

“It’s a look at intimate relationships between two same sex couples – two guys and two women,” he told

“The idea is that you look at people through the intimacy between people, rather than seeing them as a ‘social problem’,” he explained.

Gupta, 62 explained that in his experience and activist life he has noticed that, “the whole debate about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) frequently, is focused on sociology and nobody talks about the ‘intimacy part’ the ‘relationship part’,” and this is something he wanted to explore in that work.

Since, he was also diagnosed as HIV positive in 1995, Gupta, has also sought to address how intimacy can be depicted between same sex individuals, especially if you have HIV.

The dilemma remains how much or how little to reveal to any potential partner, especially during the early period when being HIV positive was considered to be akin to a death sentence.

Today, after 20 years as a survivor, Gupta is active as ever in South Asian gay politics remarking how in India, rights for the gay community keep going up and down rather like a game of snakes and ladders!

Raju Rage performative installation - there is more at stake...

Gupta, who was born in India came to the UK as a teenager, has lived between Canada, UK and India. His interest in photograph came out of his interest in Bollywood and cinema.

“Growing up in India, all we did was watch movies, so still photography was like poor man’s movies. I realised that still photographs could be quite powerful as a tool for change, so I got very interested in social documentary.”

Later, while he was studying photography at the Royal College of Art, he began to travel back to India to take pictures documenting issues of poverty and development, which then extended to gay rights.

“In England, I got caught up in the whole race politics, the black arts debate – where the issue was that non-white people were so invisible as practitioners – and photography seemed like the natural tool because it shows you very literally who are people are!”.

Meanwhile, emerging artist, Charan Singh, who comes from Delhi was drawn to photographic practice after working for many years in the field of HIV/AIDS in local NGOs.

His work is entitled, “Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others”.

“These are portraits of people from lower caste and class background who do not necessarily identify with gay or lesbian identities, so they are, in Western terms working class men and many of them were married.”

He explained the title means Kothis are underprivileged, homosexual men; Hijras are eunuchs; while Giriyas are partners of hijras and kothis and the terms denote, straight looking, straight-acting working class men with different sexual identities.
The 37-year old, chose to make studio portraits of these people.

“It was a response to Indian photography because in Indian photography you will only see portraits of princes and princess – it’s always upper class people you will see and these were working class people from slums who had never been to school.

“Their visual language is coming from Bollywood, so they are all posing in some or the other pose of Bollywood actress or actor.”

This is part of a large series, but he is only showing five pieces in this exhibition, and is work deals with memory, storytelling and masculinity.

“I made these portraits because this subculture is rarely seen out of its HIV/AIDS victim narratives.”

Singh, has been developing his creativity as a photographer and did his MA at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham and is currently, undertaking a PhD at the Royal College of Art.

“It will be about queer male identities in India and UK so I will be looking at South Asian Diaspora and I’ll be going back to India to do my research,” he explained.

The other artists feature in GFEST: “Asian Future” are Raju Rage, an interdisciplinary artist, Raisa Kabir, a multidisciplinary artist, weaver and writer and Maya Chowdhry (in collaboration with Sarah Hymas) an inTer-aCtive artist, who writes poetry and makes site specific installations.


  • Asian Future‘- (Free entry) November 9-14 at Menier Gallery, 51 Southwark Street London SE1 1RU
    Menier Gallery
  • Art critic Anna McNay will chair a debate (free entry, booking advised) on Sexuality and South Asian Identities at Menier Gallery on Saturday, November 14.

Interview with Niranjan Kamatkar and Subodh Rathod, founders of GFEST

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture