The rise of feminist discourse online has had an empowering impact on women where they are slowly learning the intricate workings of patriarchy in their daily lives and are finally bringing awareness to the way they are treated and spoken to by men. While this has been particularly liberating for women, it has noticeably had some inadvertent effects on conversations around men and their mental health. Though a large fraction of society still evades accountability for the aggression against women, the narrative now leans towards apathy towards men rather than finding common ground, compassion and understanding.
I have had some difficulty finding that soft spot for men as well, based on all the gender-based violence in the world I notice on a daily basis. That empathy only comes in bits in my connection with my male friends or films and books that draw out the isolation and suffering men experience, often as another effect of patriarchy, without being able to voice it.
However a series by a Bangalore-based illustrator has rekindled that soft spot for me.
Influenced by human intimacy, melancholy, solitude, and longing, Gaurav Hablani draws the male form exuding gentleness. His series have that touch of female gaze that reflects emotion and the inner world instead of physical builds and machismo. If you're aware of the 'sigma men' trends online that idolize troubled characters like Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) and Loius Bloom (Nightcrawler) and glorify repression and indifference, Gaurav's illustrations represent the opposite of that persona; the tender man.
This particular project was a series of artwork which portrays feelings experienced by individuals over the course of the pandemic, and how they navigate through isolation at the height of the pandemic. It was curated by Torani — a luxury fashion brand rooted around the feeling of nostalgia for their series called 'Chidiya ki Kahaani' which brought together artists with different forms and media of expression and their artistic take on the pandemic.
Gaurav is inspired by expressionism and the intimacy of two individuals, which according to him is primarily a means of journalling personal experiences. He even wishes to collaborate with artists and collectives that work with themes of the complexity of human emotions creating art inspired by their personal lives.
His characters are soft, warm-hearted creatures that are seen dancing with birds or appreciating the beauty of a butterfly reflective of their own loving relationship with themelves. They are dreamers but still in touch with deeper emotions like loneliness and longing. Gaurav's figures are also subversive with softer bodies challenging the unrealistic, rigid body images that many men have to deal with.
The men in his illustrations tell us that it's okay to acknowledge your loneliness and despair with some hot chocolate in the blanket and a little TLC instead of driving really fast in the rain or getting sloshed which has sadly become the prerogative of men struggling with mental health in the backdrop of false notions of masculinity.
The artist's work is fuelled by personal experiences over the course of his life. His primary purpose for illustrating is "either to express a feeling in art when words fall short; or to capture intangible memories which did not exist in any other medium like photographs."
Gaurav captures the playful and delicate side of humanity through his characters that do deal with the same pain and loneliness but with hope and love. His characters are unapologetically feminine in nature and form and just might change your perceptions of men and masculinity against the abrasive norm.