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Sunil Gupta

Mr.Malhotra's Party

Sunil Gupta

Sunil Gupta is a Canadian citizen, (b. New Delhi 1953) MA (Royal College of Art) PhD (University of Westminster), who has been involved in independent photography as a critical practice for many years focusing on race, migration and queer issues.In the 1980s, Gupta constructed documentary images of gay men at architectural spaces in Delhi in his “Exiles” series. The images and texts describe the conditions for gay men in India at the times. Gupta’s recent series “Mr. Malhotra’s Party” updates this theme at a time when queer identities are more open and also reside in virtual space on the internet and in private parties. His early documentary series “Christopher Street, New York” was shot in the mid-1970s as Gupta studied under Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research and became interested in the idea of gay public space. Gupta’s published works include the monographs: Queer: Sunil Gupta (Prestel/Vadehra Art Gallery, 2011); Wish You Were Here: Memories of a Gay Life (Yoda Press, New Delhi, 2008); and Pictures From Here (Chris Boot Ltd., New York, 2003).  He exhibited (with Charan Singh), “Dissent and Desire” (catalogue) at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston 2018 which was accompanied by the book, Delhi: Communities of Belonging, The New Press, New York 2016. His last publication was Christopher Street, Stanley Barker 2018 and his forthcoming publications are Lovers: Ten Years On, Stanley Barker 2020 and Sunil Gupta: From Here to Eternity, Autograph 2020. His works have been seen in many important group shows including “Paris, Bombay, Delhi…” at the Pompidou Centre, Paris 2011 and “Masculinities” at Barbican, London 2020. His retrospectives take place at The Photographers’ Gallery, London (2020) and Ryerson Image Center, Toronto 2021. He is a Professorial Fellow at UCA, Farnham, and Visiting Tutor at the Royal College of Art, London. He was Lead Curator for the Houston Fotofest 2018. His works are in many private and public collections including George Eastman House (Rochester, USA), Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Royal Ontario Museum, Tate, Harvard University and the Museum of Modern Art. His works are represented by Hales Gallery (New York, London), Stephen Bulger Gallery (Toronto) and Vadehra Art Gallery (New Delhi).

Mr. Malhotra's Party, Delhi, 2017 

In the 1980s I worked on a series of constructed documentary photographs in colour of anonymous gay men in monumental architectural spaces in Delhi (Exiles). The men described what gay life in Delhi was like in quotes under each photograph. In today’s liberalising India, homosexual men are lurking less in parks, and more on the net, and inhabit spaces like “private” parties. Gay nights at local clubs in Delhi are always signposted as private parties in a fictitious person's name. In the intervening years there have been occasions when both men and women, straight and gay have stood up and demonstrated for LGBT rights in public places. Reported by the media of the time the silence was finally broken and increasingly more people are willing to risk being “out” about their sexuality.

With these photographs in the current series, I am trying to visualise this latest virtual queer space through a series of portraits of “real” people who identify their sexuality as 'queer' in some way. This time people look straight into the camera and we see around them local aspects of where they live or work, inhabiting a more vernacular architectural space. This time they are willing to identify themselves. They are guests of an imaginary party, which I have called “Mr Malhotra's Party”, after the ubiquitous Punjabi refugee who arrived post-partition and contributed to the development of Delhi as a bustling commercial capital city.

The photographs were made over several years between 2007 and 2012. They cover a period shortly after I arrived back in Delhi to live after an absence of thirty five years. They also cover a period of intense lobbying to change the colonial anti-sodomy law in India. Two years ago the Delhi High Court ruled that sex between consenting would no longer be criminalised. This decision is being challenged in the Supreme Court and we are awaiting a final judgement. Until then, queer people of all genders are enjoying a liberty never before seen in modern India.

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