8 Young Indian Artists Exploring Sex & Sexuality In Important Ways (Vol. II) - Homegrown

8 Young Indian Artists Exploring Sex & Sexuality In Important Ways (Vol. II)

“No erotic work of art is filth if it is artistically significant; it is only turned into filth through the beholder if she/he is filthy.”– Egon Schiele


As a country, it wouldn’t be too tall a claim to say our history has been both rich and sexually-charged. India has consistently tied sex to the sacred, and this can be seen in multiple mediums of expression, from the now-clichéd but obvious mention of the epic Kamasutra (the pictorial depictions more so than the text) to the elaborate art and murals of temples like Khajuraho.

If we’re honest, the ritualistic worship one’s sexuality used to receive fared us far better too, in comparison to the overwhelming hypersexualization and objectification of women, coupled with the all-pervasive repression, we see today. How else can we explain misrepresentation of women and the criminalization of homosexuality in India?

Considering how many individual identities are fuelled by our notions of gender and sexuality the world over, it’s no wonder that these are themes that artists have explored throughout history — whether male or female, gay or straight. In India, too, artists have become pioneers in shaping progressive mindsets either by challenging realities or simply holding a mirror to society’s attitudes.

However, with clampdowns on (and sometimes even violence against) the creative freedom of artists — such as the controversy surrounding MF Husain’s paintings depicting Hindu goddesses — it is not just artistic freedom that is at stake these days, but also progress towards an egalitarian society. Because we’re constantly attempting to navigate hypocrisy and complex gender issues, we decided to highlight a few modern Indian artists who are tackling these themes via multiple mediums. We already published a first volume in this series (read here) but could hardly accommodate all the others that deserved to be profiled just as much. So scroll on to view eight more

Check out some of their most engaging projects ahead.


I.  Shilo Shiv Suleman  - The Fearless Collective

Medium: graphic, street art, art installations, murals, visual art

Shilo Shiv Suleman has found self-expression in various mediums over the years, but it is her work related to the themes of gender equality and gender identity that continuously resonated with us. With the Fearless Collective, which breathed its first two years ago, the illustrator, animator and visual artist has succeeded in pushing boundaries by asking pertinent questions through posters and wall murals, used as mediums of social and personal change against sexual violence. The campaign today involves a collective of 250 artists around the world.

“The campaign started around the same time of the Delhi rape event when I protested alongside thousands of people in the streets,” Shilo shares in an interview regarding the origins of her project. “It was the first time there was really a surge of this sort in India. And at first, it was a really good thing because we were talking, reading, and sharing about sexual violence. But at some point, I wasn’t feeling empowered. People kept saying don’t wear that and cover yourself up. This fear-based narrative developed: “You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t do that. ” We don’t need more people dropping us back home at night.  We need more people on the street beginning our lives in public space.”

The online campaign went viral and they had 350 posters sent in within the first two weeks, each a unique affirmation of fearlessness, ranging from a story about adivasi women, to one about the plurality of Indian Culture to one about ‘

Fear as a disease’. The campaign went offline with guerrilla exhibitions, and the Fearless Collective has exhibited in all the major cities of the country. In the second part of the campaign, Shilo went on to consolidate the common goal between the Street Art movement and the Women’s rights movement - the need to reclaim one’s right to public space. The team travelled across the country doing immersive workshops with communities of women and children, using walls on the streets in each space to retell personal and cultural narratives, and initiate dialogue about gender.

HG loves: How The Fearless Collective has reached out to so many communities on ground, ranging from reclaiming the cultural iconography with little girls selling candles in Benaras around the Kumbh, to painting walls with communities of fisherwomen in Koliwada, Bombay, about eviction, police brutality and the rights of women in land acquisition. Each wall ultimately creates a dialogue that they hope will persist long after the paint has faded. Every time you buy a poster, you help the movement so here you go, click away!  

II. Maitri Dore - Guysexual

Medium: Graphic Illustration

Uneven contours matched with crayoned hues, 27-year-old Maitri Dore’s illustrations almost seem like innocent drawings from a child’s book. The issues they poignantly depict are, however, gravely serious and continue to plague our society in this contemporary era. Architect-illustrator Maitri Dore, better known as ‘doremai’ to her Tumblr followers  is one of those artists who has a flair for breaking down these pertinent issues in the most playful way possible while still conveying the message. From LGBT Rights to other gender-related issues that plague India such as rape, female foeticide and everyday gender bias, Dore’s child-like style is consistently exaggerated to the extent that it can be widely understood.

Gender and sexuality are matters that Maitri feels very strongly about and her work has been published in queer interest magazines such as Gaysi and Gaylaxy before, as well as The News Minute and Scoopwhoop. She’s also done some extensive quality work for Youth Ki Awaaz that you can check out here.

With the illustrations that she created for our favourite columnist Guysexual, though, we do believe she really took it up a notch, seamlessly imbibing the fun, naughty tone of the anonymous columnist to create illustrations that matched his paced narrative stride for stride. This is perhaps one of the most illustrative examples of visuals and words coming together to complement each other in the best way possible.

HG Loves: How Maitri is very clear about the issues that she really cares about, and how she interprets the themes correspondingly with a razor-sharp wit and a willingness to blend different contexts.  We also love that she maintains a hard-hitting visual narrative that is executed in what is slowly becoming her signature style.  

III. Megha Joshi - I-Object

Mediums: Metal, fibreglass, silicon, fabric, ceramics and photographs


“There is censorship of the female breast and nipple only. While the genitalia of both men and women are similarly covered, there is no hiding the breast’s form. We have accepted as a people that the female breast is sexual. I object.”
Megha Joshi’s project tackles the issue head on asking the question - why are boobs hyper-sexualised and objectified? Using metal, fibreglass, silicon, fabric, ceramics and photographs, she has exhibited her own body to make a statement on life and society’s perspective on it. “Exposing the female nipple is banned on the Internet, even if it belongs to a breastfeeding mother, while male actors can go around exposing their nipples without being subjected to censorship,” she remarks, wondering why women, regardless of which class of society they belong to, continue to go through this casual gender bias, and what the roots of the ‘male gaze’ really are.

Immersing herself in studying zoology, biology and anthropology, she began to ideate for her show. “My works are not to titillate, create the obscene or be blasphemous, but make a point and question social conditioning,” says Megha. As for censorship of the female body, she says that ‘a nipple without a breast is just a brown circle and does not merit censorship’.

  A series of photographs titled “Sensor/Censor” features self-portraits with several silicone nipples pasted on various parts of her body in a defiant, angry question marks - “Is it still sexual?” Breasts are a recurring motif in her work, with her sculpture “Roots and Wings” depicting breasts with wings and roots, begging the questions - do these roots prevent women from soaring, or is being rooted equally important? She treads even further into the abstract with questions like - does gender bias end with death, or continue, as most rituals after death are mostly patriarchal?
HG loves: The fierceness and rawness that Megha Joshi’s work compels the viewer to address. The sheer range of mediums she employs is mind-boggling, and she succeeds in creating a range of refreshingly original visual references that urge the viewer to question ideologies that we are all constantly surrounded with in our country too.  

IV. Thenmozhi Soundararjan – #Dalitwomenfight

Medium: Transmedia project, photographs

Thenmozhi literally takes it to the streets with her art, a fiery quality that you have just got to love. Identifying herself as a transmedia artist, she creates and translates stories across platforms and for her, absolutely every single aspect to do with the Dalit women’s fight for rights in a feat in art, regardless of whether they’re social media posts, protests or making photographs. The American-Dalit photographer uses her images to create dialogue and increase awareness of the status and treatment of Dalit women in society, with a marked emphasis on sexual violence. Supporting women who gather in districts with statues of BR Ambedkar, the legendary Dalit leader and activist, Thenmozhi chronicles their fight for their rights, the acceptance of the crimes perpetuated on them (in a lot of cases, rape) and joins them in demanding that no other women have to go through the same thing.

“There are so many traditions of art as healing, art as investigation, art as inquiry, and all of those also mean art as social justice and art as self-determination,” Soundararajan told the Guardian regarding her work.

“As a creator who is making images, making film, making content in that work – you find that real violence is far more disturbing than people really understand,” Soundararajan said. “And when you use art to work in that realm, you have to know what you’re wading into and give yourself and your collaborators time to grieve.” Thenmozhi believes that one begins to use art to create in the context of mindless, brutal violence, one is ‘rebuilding the bridge of meaning’ and constructing a narrative of grace to give yourself the strength to transcend it.

HG loves: How Thenmozhi cuts to the crux of it and handles with immense sensitivity, some of the most complicated gender and caste-related issues to distil the essence of what is really important. It is the grace with which she captures the struggle while still gazing at it through a positive, constructive lens that is an ode to her prowess - both with the camera, as well as a compassionate human being.  

V. Soham Gupta - Blue Flower

Medium: Photographs

We know we’re really throwing our weight behind the making of images with this compilation, but Soham Gupta’s photo essay with his portraits of transgenders is too beautiful to pass up on--subtle, real, and thought-provoking. A longterm work of his, he says it ‘chronicles my relationship with my friends who have embraced a transgender identity,’ with a special emphasis on how the marginalised community is also very much a part of society, and should be treated accordingly.

His series of black and white photographs, in a way, strip away the glamour of colour a lot of us associate, either consciously or subconsciously, with individuals with alternative sexualities and captures, instead, intimate portraits, some photographed with family members or their significant other. This body of work is highly reminiscent of the iconic Dayanita Singh’s ‘Myself Mona Ahmed’ series which documents the unique life of a eunuch named Mona Ahmed closely, the visual narrative similarly shedding realistic light on Mona as just another human being. It is heartening to see artistic legacies like these being carried forward, especially in the turbulent but transformative times that we live in, for now is when we need this the most. Soham’s work has previously been published in Kindle Magazine and Al Jazeera, and he also spends his time engaged in non-fiction writing and exploring the theme of loneliness.  

HG loves: The lack of exaggeration and the nuanced subtlety in his work that acts as a sort of neutralising element. It draws this marginalised community into the mainstream and makes them look as they are: real human beings, which is exactly how they deserve to be treated.  

VI. Mithu Sen - A Void

Medium: Illustrations, installations, poems, collages, sculpting

New Delhi-based artist Mithu Sen is yet another artist leaving her mark when it comes to letting art interact with the themes of queer interest and sexuality, with her fresh and unique brand of sensual and engaging works. Flipping off gender stereotypes nonchalantly, Mithu treads deep into the theme of eroticism with her illustrations, installations, poems and collages.

“My art practice revolves around the reclamation of socio-political, linguistic, historical, cultural, sexual, and psychological margins,” she says in an interview. “I try to engage with these sensitive issues in a playful manner, punctuating it with sentimentality and dark humour.”

And that is what really cinches it for us - you know something is special when a vast, multi-faceted issue like sexuality is being treated with a healthy sense of humour while still conveying a resounding, crystal clear message questioning societal roles and the stereotypical notions that society attaches to femininity.
Stemming from her strong drawing background, in A Void, Mithu employs video, sculpture, installations, and sound works that draw the viewer into her dreamlike world with several recurring motifs symbolic of deeper psychoanalytic readings tying in into our subconscious thoughts about sexuality.

HG loves: That besides not being afraid to be provocative and downright sexy, Mithu’s art stems from a very personal space and she is unabashed about it truly representing her world views, out for the world to see. It takes a certain amount of courage to do that.

VII. Rithika Merchant - ‘Lunar Tabulatorum’

Medium: Fine art, drawing

Mumbai-based Rithika Merchant currently lives and works out of Barcelona, where she moved after school in New York. Craft and concept find evocative middle ground with her drawings, which draw extensively from the well of Indian mythology, and feature detailed line work. Anthropomorphism and personification are recurring themes in her work too, and this is definitely some of the most inspired work we’ve come across. Rithika weaves dense narratives speckled with mythopoetic associations, pagan cultures and other cultural references, all of which engage in communicating through starkly anthropomorphic imagery, which often invokes themes of sexuality and femininity, albeit in subtler ways. For example, in her most recent project ‘Lunar Tabulatorum,’ Rithika allows the parallel idea of the moon (the central focus of this series of paintings) being linked to menstrual cycles in multiple cultures around the world. As such, she allows people to experience the layered nature of such concepts within the context of larger ones, as it tends to exist in real life too.

Her interpretations are riveting, and her unique brand that blends natural elements with mythological ones gives her a distinct artistic voice that is quickly becoming something that she should, and probably will, come to be known by. 

HG Loves: The multi-layered nature of her work, which encourages deeper viewing, and the manner in which she tackles such intimate themes, which break down her interpretations to all, regardless of cultural background. The diversity of her work is definitely another aspect to remark upon, ranging from the macabre to the dreamy to the abstract.  

Special Mention

VIII. Myna Mukherjee - Engendered

Besides the actual artists creating work, there are a lot of other people involved in ensuring that art remains relevant, challenging society’s notions, and persisting in being an instrument of social change. This is why we couldn’t leave Myna Mukherjee off this list, an art curator running a space in Delhi called Engendered, who curates art shows. “At Engendered, we believe that art is vital to the dimension of culture and an understanding of its importance alongside political, economical and social forces in movements and acts of social change,” the Facebook page of Engendered says. “Art can be significant in challenging and complicating the traditional boundaries and hierarchies of culture as represented by those in power.”

Her travelling art show Resist is an intervention, an art protest of sorts, that saw the coming together of 17 artists, four bands and five fashion designers, to protest in unique ways ‘to explore to the fullest the subversive potential of art’. The event was completely non-commercial, with gripping personal narratives by artists including Balbir Krishan, an openly gay artist from Uttar Pradesh, who explained ‘how his painting on the fable of Shiva, Mohini and Harihar challenged gender binaries’. “In January last year an exhibition of paintings based on queer themes at Lalit Kala academy was attacked by unknown miscreants. The discourse on gender sensitivity has to address the issue of respect towards other genders too,” Krishnan told Hindustan Times.

”Not everyone is in a position to protest, but artists soak it all in and portray it in their work so that art makes you feel and sometimes tells you what you have been thinking,” Myna said“A political lens for approaching art is thus extremely significant.”

HG loves: That spaces like these are beginning to exist within our country, without the need to censor yourself from the authorities. Curators like Myna Mukherjee are as important a part of the art ecosystem as the artists themselves, for creating a sense of community around the issue, not to mention a platform where these views could all be aired and discussed freely.


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