Christopher Street, 1976
Mr. Malhotra’s Party, 2007-2015
One of the principal threads that weave through Sunil Gupta’s nearly four decades of artistic production is the investigation of gay public space, pursued across different communities and continents. From his initial series of images, Christopher Street, shot in the mid-1970s in Greenwich Village, Gupta turned his lens onto this newly claimed public arena. Having originally relocated to New York City to study business administration, Gupta abruptly changed paths after taking classes with Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research. He says, “I spent my weekends cruising with my camera. It was the heady days after Stonewall and before AIDS when we were young and busy, creating a public gay space such as hadn’t really been seen before. In retrospect these pictures have become both nostalgic and iconic for a very important moment in my personal history.”
Ten years later, Gupta received an important commission from the Photographers’ Gallery in London to create Exiles, a project that visualized the experience of gay men in his hometown, Delhi, India. Gupta noted the vulnerability of the 1980s gay subculture in Delhi, existing in a barely discernable space and without rights or legal status: “As a gay man, I felt I couldn’t live in such a repressive atmosphere. Now there is a claim for more visibility but there is still a shortage of cultural production.”
Revisiting Delhi and the subject again, some thirty years after Exiles, Gupta’s recent series Mr. Malhotra’s Party constructs an image of the nascent queer scene in the city, corresponding with an intense lobbying campaign to remove the colonial anti-sodomy law in India. With the law struck down and then reinstated four years later in 2014, Delhi’s queer community remains under fire politically; safe spaces are created through social media and private parties. “There are no gay bars in Delhi but parties do happen and the way they get away with it is to post a notice saying that it’s a private party. The place we always went to had a different name every week. One day it was called “Mr. Malhotra’s Party.” Malhotra is a typical name that comes from the Punjabi refugees of the Partition of India in 1948, and like hard working migrant Punjabis everywhere in the world, they built New Delhi.”
Born in 1953, Sunil Gupta is an artist, writer, activist and curator. His work has been shown internationally in over 90 solo exhibitions, most recently at Yale University, New Haven, CT (2015). Recent significant group exhibitions include Paris – Delhi – Bombay... at the Pompidou Centre (2011) and Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain at the Tate Liverpool (2013). Gupta’s curatorial efforts were paramount in the monumental exhibition, Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh at The Whitechapel Gallery, London and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2010).
Gupta’s published work includes 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).
Sunil Gupta is currently Visiting Professor at UCA, Farnham, UK. His work is included in numerous private and public collections including; George Eastman House (Rochester, USA), Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Royal Ontario Museum, Tate Britain and Harvard University. Gupta is represented by sepia EYE, New York.