Art – no matter which medium it is – is all about expressing identities, voicing thoughts, and celebrating one’s true persona. In a world where the LGBTQIA+ community is stigmatised, the need for this reassertion of one’s identity increases manifold. This pride month, we look at some queer Indian personalities who celebrate their sexualities through their creative works and aim to break the taboo, one stereotype at a time. By Bayar Jain
1. Bhupen Khakhar
An openly-gay artist, this late artist celebrated Indian mythologies and themes in all of his works. Through his narrative-style oil paintings, he contested the problems of gender definitions and gender identity while also depicting the common man’s daily struggles beautifully. Although self-taught, this Mumbai-based contemporary artist increasingly gained international recognition for his work and was even honoured the Padma Shri for his craft. This Economics and Political Science graduate was even honoured with the Prince Claus Award at the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, and the Asian Council’s Starr Foundation Fellowship. Today his works don the walls of British Museum, The Tate Gallery in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and more.
2. Sandip Roy
After spending 20 years in San Francisco, Sandip Roy returned to his home base in Kolkata from where he now reports on gay rights and struggles in modern India. He uses his power of the pen to voice concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community by penning his thoughts across various publications such as Firstpost (where he is the cultural editor), Huffington Post (as a contributing editor), and a regular commentator on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. Not only has this openly-gay author written a book titled Don’t Let Him Know, but has also contributed to anthologies such as Storywallah!; Contours of the Heart; Because I Have a Voice: Queer Politics in India; Out! Stories from the New Queer India; New California Writing 2011 and The Phobic and the Erotic: The Politics of Sexualities in Contemporary India.
3. Dutee Chand
A national champion in the women’s 100 meters sprint race, Dutee Chand is the third Indian woman to qualify for the same at the Summer Olympic Games. Earlier in 2019, she spoke about her same-sex relationship, in turn becoming the first Indian athlete to come out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. A staunch advocate of gay rights, in 2014 Chand fell prey to a case by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which claimed that hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete, in turn leading to her suspension from the Indian contingent for the 2014 Asian Games. Since then, she fought for a change in the rules, continues to support fellow athletes, and bags golds at international sporting events like the Jakarta Asian Games, Asian Games, 2019 Summer Universiade, and more.
4. Rituparno Ghosh
Indian film director, actor, writer and lyricist
Having won numerous national awards during his career, Kolkata-born Rituparno Ghosh was influenced by the works of Satyajit Ray and even referenced Rabindranath Tagore in his films. Often dubbed as the queer icon of Indian cinema, he addressed issues of homosexuality and gender in his movies, especially during the later years. Aiming to reject same-sex relationships as purely physical, his movies – whether those he directed or those he acted in – were often praised for treating sexualities with an empathetic eye.
5. Navin Noronha
Touted as India’s first openly-gay comedian, Navin Noronha hails from the suburban side of Mumbai. Through his stand-up comedy sets, this engineering graduate believes in the power of laughs to break the taboo of homosexuality in India. After performing at his first open-mic event in July 2014, this improv artist has since produced many podcasts, each of which ranges from pop-culture to sex.