All of us have heard of at least one case where someone’s photograph is taken down for ‘violating community guidelines’. Whether it was Rupi Kaur’s menstruation photographs, an image of curvy Indian women in bikinis being taken down by Instagram or Feminism in India Editor Japleen Pasricha’s tumultuous relationship with Facebook, the standards of what is acceptable and what is deserving of censorship is incredibly skewed.
Be it the human anatomy, political or satirical art – young Indian creatives have continued to express themselves, often holding up a mirror to society, despite the chance of being reported and opening themselves up to a barrage of negative and even lewd comments. While the digital world and social media have provided a platform for creativity and connection across borders, it hasn’t been as ‘free’ as we’d thought, leaving the more provocative of the art community in a perpetual battle with the creators of the networks, or having their work constantly taken down.
While the debate continues on what is acceptable and what is not, whether art can or should be censored at all, our art world still thrives. Over the years Homegrown has spoken to some incredibly talented, bold and experimental young creatives and through our conversations have found the various ways in which they have dealt with censorship on social media. While some find loopholes in the provided guidelines and post their works, others blur/scratch out the ‘controversial’ aspects of their work for public consumption. The experience has been different for everyone but there is definitely a common thread that holds them together.
I. Sam Madhu @sam_madhu
The young artist’s series featuring goddess Kali created quite a social media storm in the past. Negative criticism came in for her depiction of the goddess, adorning an Adidas tracksuit in one image and a biker jacket in another as disrespectful and insensitive. But through her work, Sam calls out to all the women to focus on and, well, worship instead their inner goddesses and unleash their ferocity and power onto this world.
Speaking to Homegrown, Madhu says that she hasn’t had her work removed from any social media platform as yet, but there was one Instagram story that was taken down and a warning was sent to her along with a thread to block her account. “I think it is kind of ridiculous because there’s an abundance of misogynistic content out there on IG but no one bats an eyelid, but when it comes to women taking ownership of our own bodies – everyone seems to have a problem.”
There have been moments when she has faltered before actually putting up her art with worry about getting blocked – “Which is so ridiculous and it’s not something I particularly want to waste time thinking about” – but in the end, she posts whatever she wants.
When asked whether she has observed any double standards when it comes to the gender and race of the artist, Madhu says that female artists have to explain their work. “I feel male artists can just make exactly what they want to make and be heralded for their efforts without having to explain themselves. When you’re a female artist, you always have to provide reasoning behind your art. Why did you make this? Why are you like this? What does this say about your place in society?”
She adds, “Similarly, when you’re a white artist, you can make work that exists because you want it to exist. But being a POC artist in my experience comes with a lot of contextual explanation. Your work must have context and cultural significance. It can’t exist simply because you wish for it to exist.”
You can follow Sam Madhu and see more of her work on Instagram.
II. Aditya Verma @ratyadityagram
A Delhi-based artist, Aditya Verma’s creations take hours and his canvas is the naked bodies of women and gender non-conforming people. While Verma doesn’t identify as a photographer, the images he shoots for his Instagram account do justice in capturing the splatters of colour and abstract imagery scattered across breasts, bums, and all the folds of skin that make the human form so magnificent.
Where sexuality is often portrayed as aggressive or overbearing, Verma’s intimate style of body painting finds itself in the milder and kinder expressions of innate eroticism. “Having someone to look at you naked without anything in mind creates a safe space where people can explore their sexuality without being sexual,” he tells our writer in a previous interview. Most of his subjects tell him that the entire experience is therapeutic, which is perhaps why they contact him in the first place. His approach to nakedness is clinical, but not dispassionate—it represents an important perspective of nakedness as being nothing more than simply being undressed.
Many of Verma’s works have been taken off of Instagram, censored, or verbally condemned, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing with his art. Fear is understandably a part of his vocabulary, but resignation isn’t.
We’ll let Verma’s own words act in conclusion of this account. In a caption addressing an image of a blackened out crotch which was taken down, he writes, “Is it really that important to you, the presence of an underwear? The question you need to ask yourself is, will a small triangle of cloth really help you protect yourself from the unwavering ugliness of your thoughts? Will a social construct be the only solution to the social stereotype that clothes equal morality and goodness? Ask this of yourself every morning, while you strip away those last social constructs, preparing yourself for a hot shower that will yet again fail to wash the dirt and ignorance of your convoluted mind.”
III. Roshini Kumar @rosh93
Photographer Roshini Kumar’s work is defined by both bold colours and ideas - especially with those regarding body positivity. We were captivated by her series ‘BARE’ which encouraged people to celebrate their bodily differences as opposed to being influenced by beauty standards set by society. Her series ‘Pussy & Patron’ was an unfiltered and unapologetic tribute to female sexual freedom.
“There are so many accounts that post abusive, rape, porn content and so on. They seem to survive through the guidelines, but if you or I post some artwork with female nipples it’s taken down in minutes. In fact, the other day I had put up a pic without censoring nipples as it was a man’s nipples, but the body type made it look like it was a woman’s so that was taken down as well. So, I mean, there’s no winning with them,” Kumar tells us. “They seem to have standards for everything right now. And this, I think, is making social media a toxic environment for artists especially because there is no actual freedom of expression – it’s just an illusion and we still do it because we get work through this and they’re just misusing this power they have now by doing this.”
Kumar adds that social media platforms could easily make provisions for artists like herself to post such content, have filters to see which of it is actually pornographic and explicit or not, or perhaps even have verification tags for artists to post the same. “They don’t seem to care and it’s very disheartening. At a time where there are so many artists trying to do good and spread good things, things like this really mess up the process!”
Follow Roshini Kumar and her work on Instagram.
IV. Pulkit Mogha @pulkitxmogha
“We resist before we embrace anything that makes us uncomfortable,” says 25-year-old Pulkit Mogha. We are talking about censorship, not of him as an architect (which he is by profession) but of the photography that he posts on social media platforms.
Silencing and censorship flag the work of artists across the board, and Mogha too faced the same. His current Instagram account is his third attempt at navigating the social media platform policies to find the cracks and ‘let slip’ his work. “It frustrates me more to see the very same amount of nudity in content celebrated as art on social media when these bodies are pale, muscular or belong to sexualised airbrushed women, while my photos continue being reported and taken down from Instagram as being too explicit or pornographic. But it’s a learning curve to find loopholes in the system and make my photos seen, which isn’t a foreign idea to most of us queer Indians, as most of our struggles in our physical lives are much the same, of finding loopholes in the system to be ourselves,” he says.
But it’s not always easy and when you’re challenging a mindset, tradition and thought; something like the rigid notions of masculinity, sexuality and love there is always a backlash as well. “I don’t think it is fear as much as it is the need to curb anything that breaks the norm. We resist before we embrace anything that makes us uncomfortable. It is all about pushing those boundaries to be inclusive and tolerant. My intentions have never been to provoke but to push those limits of understanding what is beauty, what bodies should be like, what is normal.”
You can follow Pulkit Mogha and see more of his beautiful work on Instagram.
V. Adrita Das @adrita
What we’ve always admired and also envied about Adrita Das is her very special ability to visualise and communicate thoughts, experiences and emotions that us plebs struggle to put into words. More so, her use of wit, humour and pop culture, all perfectly in sync, making viewers question the very values and principles that the system has put in place.
Relating current affairs with iconic people and objects of the past; meme and GIF’s that contemplate modern Indian feminism – her artworks are as memorable as they are humorous. Whether it is ‘The Last Supper Of Democracy’ which highlights the hilarity of Indian politics or the not-so-sanskaari twist she gave to the popular ‘Cards Against Humanity’ game, ‘Cards Against Sanskaar’ which she co-created with Karan Dilip Worah and Akhil Singh.
Speaking to Homegrown previously about ‘The Last Supper Of Democracy’ Das comments on the tumultuous climate we live in when it comes to freedom of expression and speech. “Critics and commentators of those in power are almost instantly shot down and trolled for voicing their opinions. But are Indians more open to such a discussion and critical commentary, with art being a more digestible medium? I wouldn’t say it is easy even now, as people are highly sensitive about the smallest of things and don’t appreciate satire/parody/commentary as such. Although adding a bit of humour goes a long way in making the artwork more accessible to the masses, given that people are more likely to share it and pass it off as ‘just jokes’.”
She adds, “I think there is a fine line of humour that one must self-assess and then take a stand- if they are willing to stand up for it, then it should be out there. I do think at artists censor most work themselves as they are often quite critical of what would be well received and what not. At the end of the day, I feel that I do want to make jokes at the expense of others and in a way that is altruistic- and so I didn’t spare anyone, including myself.”
Feature image credits: (L) Sam Madhu & (R) Aditya Verma
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