February is observed as LGBT History Month in the United Kingdom, covering not just with Valentine’s Day, but also the 2003 abolition of Section 28 — which prohibited promotion of homosexuality. The month is marked with festivities and even though closer home LGBT History Month is not yet a reality, the city did gear up for ‘Run with Pride’, an activity organised by Queer Campus Hyderabad.
From hosting a fundraiser to conducting a documentary fest, the Queer Campus Hyderabad has done a lot. But despite the success, there is one field that the community has had almost no breakthrough in — art.
“If you think that the art market in the city is underdeveloped, then for a queer artist, it’s pretty much closed,” says Vishal Tondon, an art historian, a PhD scholar at Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad, and one of the very few gay artists in the city.
No place for LGBT artists in the city?
Having moved to Hyderabad in 2012 to teach at the Annapurna International School as a lecturer and head of the Liberal Arts department, Tondon admits how it was impossible to get the galleries to host an international queer art show that he was curating in 2012.
“In Mumbai, I was part of queer art shows at Ashish Balram Nagpal Art Gallery (2001, 2002 and 2004) and Lansdowne Art Gallery (2007). But when it came to curating an international show in the city, Exclusively Inclusive! Celebrating Diversity Through Art, all the galleries shut their doors because they didn’t want to create a controversy,” says Tondon, who after studying medicine did his masters in History of Art from Kala Bhavan, Shantiniketan.
The exhibition finally took place at the Anveshi Research Center for Women’s Studies in Hyderabad. And even though the exhibits didn’t comprise erotica that he had delved in before joining Shantiniketan, Vishal admits that there still were no takers.
“There was one image where a gay couple was getting married and another where men, fully clothed in dhotis, were lying down in a seductive pose. While gallery owners found it offensive, the art was actually an amusing take on how women have been stereotyped to pose all these years,” he adds.
Last year, Tondon, one of the members of Wajood Society — an NGO to build a safe space for LGBTs — encouraged three artists from the community — Srinivas, Santosh and Shikha — to pursue their calling for art.
“But in the recent past there has been no bursting forth of talent,” says Tondon, adding, “Art is an expensive vocation and to conduct an exhibition, you need sponsors. Hyderabad still favours traditional art, and there are very few galleries that encourage contemporary art. Even people who come to Wajood are very timid. Most queer artists prefer being labelled as a ‘gay friendly’ artist rather than a ‘gay’ one.”
“Going by the current scene, it will be a long while before Hyderabad can boast of having an artist as accomplished as David Hockney, one of Britain’s greatest living artists,” says Tondon, who is working on an exhibition that will be showcased later this year....