Bhupen Khakhar at the Gate Foundation, Amsterdam (1998)

R.J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 4 January 2011
This article was previously published in Asian Art News, 8(5), October 1998, p. 80.

Bhupen Khakhar at the Gate Foundation

Within the context of the sports and cultural programming of the Gay Games in Amsterdam, for which organizers reported an attendance of 250,000 people, the Gate Foundation organized a show of selected works by Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar taken from Dutch and German collections.

Bhupen Khakhar, 54, shows mixes of high and low culture, inspirations of popular and folk art, and references to calendar images, circus and film posters, images from the Indian miniature schools, old cards, and maps of India. Khakhar also refers to Western art history, such as his usage of a kind of continuous narrative with Son is the father of man (1997) that recalls Italian Renaissance painting, and Hemels genot (1991), (in English, loosely translated to Heavenly pleasure), which refers to Baroque ceiling painting. His work moves along a continuum from gay-specific content, as with Hemels Genot, with a large erect figure in a sea of male exclusivity, to gay-secondary work which presents more implicit homosexuality within an Indian context. Bhupen Khakhar also presents work of village life, where even with a potentially homo-centered eye, sexual orientation is clearly lost within a cultural fabric. Unfortunately, the degree to which Khakhar comparatively takes risks with his work may be lost amidst the dominant Western Games and its audience.

Despite the Games oddly enough referring to the Olympics— with its inherent “international” pretensions— this show was the only one out of over 30 listed in the program which presented the work of an a Asian-born artist. Amidst this sea of Western domination, Bhupen Khakhar’s work shines, given his status and the quality of his work. He is one of the leading artists in the world who is openly gay and addresses homosexuality within his living context. This may make some in India and the rest of Asia feel uncomfortable that one of their leading exports is queer. Despite his status, he will have his first solo exhibition in Delhi this year, and it will be interesting to see the response to his work in his native land.