Nudity in art has been a part of Indian heritage and ethos but is the land of Kamasutra ready for nudes on the wall today? Even high-octane artists such as Late M F Husain had to face threat calls after painting nude Hindu deities.
More recently curtains came down prematurely on Sunil Gupta's homoerotic-themed photography exhibition just a day after its preview at Alliance Française. Begun on March 23 the exhibition was to remain open till April 15. Titled Sun City & Other Stories, the photography show was a fictional narrative inspired by French film La Jetée.
Despite controversies, artists in India continue to paint nudes and display their work in different parts of the country. But the question remains, is India ready for nude art?
Meenakshi Sharma, a self-taught artist who is exhibiting nude art in the Capital, which depicts women power says, "In India, people are gradually accepting this form of art. It is really sad what happened with M F Husain. Art should be seen as one's own way of presenting thoughts. I don't understand why people have their opinion on everything."
Art work by Meenakshi Sharma
When asked about the premise and motivation, she explains, "For me, these women are not nude, they are just in different moods. I like to paint and it is nothing erotic for me. It is some kind of celebration. People might look at it as nudes but when I look at it, it's just a beautiful woman."
Four more women painters along with Meenakshi are displaying nudes at the same venue. These contemporary artists want to bring a change in the way people look at nude paintings. A ripple of a revolution however subtle, is underway. Meenakshi insists that she was unabashed about putting up her work. "When I started painting, the immediate people I shared my work with were family and friends. And when I got the support from them, there was nothing that I was scared of," says the uninhibited artist.
"On one hand people watch porn all the time including our politicians and on the other hand they criticize nude art, which is a beautiful way of presenting one's thoughts. I am hoping with the kind of exposure we are getting this will soon be acceptable", says Sunayana Malhotra, who is one of the five artists exhibiting work on women power.
Another work by Meenakshi Sharma
But does it sell? "If success is seen in terms of buyers then I haven't reached that stage. But definitely nude art sells in India. There are people who appreciate and want to put it up," says Meenakshi.
There are galleries which are in full support of such artists. Naresh Kapuria, an artist and the art curator for women power exhibition believes that a good art work should be displayed with all sincerity.
"I chose these five artists because their work is bold and it's fresh. I think art in any form should be promoted. If you see these paintings, all of them are about modern women and how they carry themselves. I am proud of the work that is displayed here," says Kapuria.
Renowned art critic Prayag Shukla strongly feels that artists should educate people to respect art. "There should be complaints lodged against those who protest and create havoc about nude paintings. Everyone has the right to freedom," avers Shukla.
In a country where art is considered the highest form of interpretation, why is it that an artist is expected to draw the line? Today there might be few takers in terms of cash-register sales but the appreciation is immense and that is what keeps these artists going. With the changing milieu, we hope to see more experimentation in this space and an extended accepting audience.
Art work by Sunayana Malhotra