A Stunning Indian Photo Series Explores The Delicate Nature Of Gay Identity

'I AM OPEN'Abhinav Kafare

The raw nature of Abhinav Kafare’s work is captivating. From fine art to photography, the 27-year-old artist from Mumbai is a master of several mediums, and harnesses each of them with a certain flair and charisma. His life size mural of a modern interpretation of Hanuman on the walls of IIT-Bombay, garnered equal amounts of praise and critiques, which is a testament to the enticing nature of Abhinav’s work. It also shows that he doesn’t shy away from challenging the status quo.

I Am Open’, his recent collaboration with Swapnil Sabban is a stunning yet delicate exploration of gay identity. A black and white photo series which has Swapnil, the muse, express and explore his sexuality as Abhinav impeccably captures the narrative at play. The powerful imagery is now also a part of the Times Out & Proud campaign.

We had the chance to talk to Abhinav about his craft and the series, here’s what he had to say!

Why do you make art and what does it mean to you?

Making art is not only about drawing pictures or taking a photograph, it’s an expression. One can choose any medium to express oneself. For me, art is a way or medium of expression. It makes me calm. In day-to-day life there are various exchanges of thoughts, things that keep bothering my mind. I reflect on them and expresses. For me, that expression is an art. It can also be beauty, sorrow or frustration.

When we look into our inner selves, questions like, ‘what’s happening with me?, Who am I? Where are we going? keep troubling us. To ponder on these thoughts and the constant search of answers for these questions is something important. Search for truth is very important and art enables you to do that. It can be in any form.

The meaning and the purpose of art is not always about social transformation. Whatever I see, read, sing, listen with sensitivity, I try to explore the emotions and thoughts related to that in my art with the help of forms and lines. In fact, by looking at your inner self you actually start understanding the meaning of what you are doing in the present, you get to know the reasons behind your creations. The question, why do we do art is like asking why do we eat?

'I Am Open' by Abhinav Kafare featuring Swapnil Sabban

You use several different mediums (photography, fine art etc.) to express yourself. What’s the process and intent behind each of them?

For me medium is not an issue anymore. There is a point where all media come together, it’s a mixture. Lights, forms, lines, emotions, meaning, understanding, composition are some of the things which are common to photography and fine arts. At individual level, I try to take fine art and photography out from their set theories and rules and try to explore the possibilities. My attempt is to explore different possibilities as well as deaths of each of these mediums. There is a lot happening around us. An artist always tries to capture or juxtapose their nuances and beauty. Ultimately, it’s a self journey whose purpose is inner peace and joy.

This is my work. Making art I find fulfilment. I feel unburdened and light.

'I Am Open' by Abhinav Kafare featuring Swapnil Sabban

Tell us about the story & the process behind the collaborative photo story with Swapnil Sabban.

Swapnil got acquainted with my work from social media. He wanted a portfolio for pursuing his career in acting and was quite impressed with my work. I always look forward to working with new people. It offers me a tremendous variety in terms of features, costumes, colour tone, style, body posture, and movements. In my photographs, I always try to capture these peculiarities and those peculiar emotions associated with them. Swapnil shared several pictures and videos of him, which peaked my interest in him. I wanted to explore his presence in a social space and to know how is he in his own personal space. I didn’t judge him, I recognised he was different. Different and uncommon things always attract me as an artist. The combination of his beard and feminine mannerisms intrigued me.

Usually I don’t instruct , I like to click things as they are in a natural way. I told Swapnil to do whatever he wanted and it was amazing to see his transformation. He shed all inhibitions and went about dressing up. In about half n hour we bonded like old friends.

'I Am Open' by Abhinav Kafare featuring Swapnil Sabban

As a country, we are still hesitant to explore nudity and sexuality. What’s your take on the general censorship culture?

I have always found this surprising to see the country where Kamasutra was written, and there are sculptures like Khajuraho openly depicting sexuality and nudity is still a taboo. In many cultures of the world it has been treated as a part of everyday life. They are very much open about it.

As a fine artist, I see the human body as the ultimate piece of beauty. One needs to appreciate and study that. We are creations of nature. Except human beings all other animals are open, there are no barriers and no taboos about their own bodies and sexuality. Ultimately, body is an object, how do you look at it is what matters.

I strongly feel that we need to have openness about sexuality and nudity in our culture as we had been. The sculptures and paintings in places like Khajuraho are testimony to the openness that we had earlier.

But yes, there exists a cultural censorship and me and my artwork have been victims of it. The mural of Hanuman which I created in IIT Bombay, turned out to be controversial. We are in times where cultural censorship is increasing, there is constant threat to freedom of expression. An art cannot be confined to anything. One may disagree but there should be an open space for creation. Freedom is the basic prerequisite for creation.

'I Am Open' by Abhinav Kafare featuring Swapnil Sabban

How important is it for an artist to hold truth to power and reflect the society?

Yes, I think it’s very important to hold the truth. Art gives you power to do that. Art develops in a society, hence in a way a piece of art is a statement about the society.

Through my street art I do that. It gives me space and freedom to directly communicate with people. The very purpose of the street art is to show the mirror to the society and the state.

Sadly in India, we still believe that beautification of the street walls is what street art is. But that’s not the case, street art is a powerful medium by which you reflect about the society. It’s a commentary and a critic of the contemporary situation. It’s a weapon of the artists. If you want to reach out to the larger audiences, wall serves to be the best medium.

'I Am Open' by Abhinav Kafare featuring Swapnil Sabban

Check out the work of Abhinav Kafare & Swapnil Sabban.

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