Disabled gay artist Balbir Krishan started exhibiting in India in 2013, but right now, he finds himself at the center of a controversy. His show “My Bed of Roses” was pulled from the Muse Gallery in Hyderabad, sparking discussion about the censorship of gay and lesbian artists in a country that is sometimes very hostile to its LGBQ residents. This comes in the midst of a breakdown in US-India relations which already has some Americans frowning on India, and as discussion rages over anti-gay discrimination in Russia in advance of the Sochi Olympics. In other words, the “morality police” couldn’t have picked a worse time to suppress a gay artist.
The Times of India initially reported that right wing activists pressured the gallery curator to take down the show, arguing that it went against Indian values and culture. He said he was afraid to report the incident to police, because the people involved were influential. Instead, he took down the show, which was based on 40 years of closeted life in India — and Krishan didn’t even find out about the incident until he woke up the next day and found an update on Facebook.
The manager of the hotel where the show was displayed, on the other hand, insists that the paintings were taken down because some guests seemed “unsettled” by the exploration of nudes and sexuality. In the interest of keeping guests happy, he opted to take down the artwork, and claims there were no threats or external pressures to take down the paintings.
It wouldn’t be the first time Krishan’s work has been challenged; people have attacked not only his art, but he himself. He was surprised, however, to find such a strong reaction in Hyderabad, believing the city progressive enough to handle the show — and arguing that nudes and sexualized art actually have a very prominent place in Indian society and culture.
This is occurring in the context of growing homophobia in India, including institutionalized homophobia in the form of a new law banning gay sex. Intolerance has always been an issue for the nation’s gays and lesbians, but it’s worse than ever, and could become another sticking point in India’s tenuous relationship with the United States. While the countries are at diplomatic odds over a labor dispute, continued homophobia in India is bound to draw the attention of the US State Department, and possible condemnation from that agency or the Obama Administration itself, which would further destabilize relations.
To add to the issue, the topic of homophobia, censorship, and national responsibility is very much in the air thanks to ongoing discussions over the Sochi Olympics. The US has notedly and defiantly sent a sizeable gay and lesbian delegation to the Olympics, while President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are pointedly snubbing the event. With an ever-growing push for full integration and acceptance of the LGBQT community in the air, is it possible that India could face serious political consequences for this act of creative suppression?
Photo credit: Sean Ellis.