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Of nude art and the Indian mart

Although Indian artists are making hay with nudity on canvases abroad, the market in India still remains tight for them.

art and culture Updated: Sep 17, 2007 13:40 IST
Damini Purkayastha

Later this month, Delhi-based digital artist Sonia Khurana's video stills will go under the hammer at Sotheby's, New York.

The 48 odd stills (mounted on aluminium) of Khurana performing in the nude, from her two-minute video, Bird, are expected to fetch anything between $ 50,000 to $60,000.

That brings us to the business of nudes. Is nudity passé? Who are painters, the collectors and who on earth are these ‘nudes'? Indian artist

Body art
<b1>The Delhi College of Arts syllabus includes a special course in nudes in the second and third years. But college authorities claim that they have a tough time procuring models. Mohan Singh, a teacher, who has been with the Delhi College for the last eight years says they are "generally poor people, looking to make a quick buck."

They are paid Rs 200 for a session that lasts for two to three hours. Even male models are in demand. And they come via contacts like college sweepers or local wrestlers.

Not only are they poor and come cheap, they are also ageless. Artist Kanchan Chander who paints female nudes recalls, "There was one person who modelled when I was a student and even 10 years after."

Finding expression
Celebration of the body - that is the idea behind Vasundhara Tiwari's canvases. But in a market where the ‘subjects' are picked up from either slums or slums there must be little inspiration for artists.

Tiwari disagrees, "I use models only for reference. It's more of an inner expression, and the ‘look' doesn't matter at all."

Krishnendu Porel's models are from either Germany or Italy. He says, "There it costs about 200 Euros a day. A lot of college girls with a good figure and body language do this work for fun and pocket money."

If you get past the business of procuring nudes, you have another hurdle where do you paint them?

GR Iranna paints them in his studio, in a residential area, thereby providing endless gossip for his neighbours. "People think I've brought a prostitute," he says.

No nudity please, we're Indians
Fashion designer and owner of Palette Art Gallery, Rohit Gandhi faces a different problem. When an elderly lawyer came to visit Gandhi at his residence (he has an extensive collection of nudes) he refused to sit in the drawing room. "He sat in the garden because the house had too many ashlil images."

And it's not just onlookers, the ‘nudes' themselves are suspicious of artists' intentions. Comments Gandhi, "This is really sad, because I don't know of any artist who will abuse his/her art. I think models should be honoured about being approached by artists, especially senior artists.

The art market is no less discriminatory. And though there is no difference between the price of a ‘nude' and any other work, people do feel uncomfortable about hanging nudes on their walls.

Iranna sells in Germany and the US and Porel's market is in Germany and Europe. Why has Kamasutra-land gone all shy?

(With inputs from Itee Dewan)