Our Pride: Bhupen Khakar

Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003) played a central role in modern Indian art and was a key international figure in 20th century painting. He confronted provocative themes, particularly his homosexuality.

A self-professed homosexual, the problem of gender definitions and gender identity were major themes of his work. Though the artist had been largely self-taught, his work soon garnered attention and critical praise. He was born in Mumbai, worked in Baroda, and gained international recognition for his work.

In the year 2000, Khakhar was honoured with the prestigious Padma Shri in 1984, the Prince Claus Award at the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. His works can be found in the collections of the British Museum, The Tate Gallery, London, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others.



In 1979 he exhibited three works at an international exhibition of “narrative paintings” in London. Since then he has exhibited all over the world and was one of the six representative Indian painters to be shown at the Tate Gallery London along with Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Amrita Sher-Gil and others. He was the first painter from the subcontinent to be invited to exhibit at the prestigious Documenta exhibition held in Germany.

Homosexuality was something that at the time was rarely addressed in India. Growing up gay in the ‘40s and ‘50s could not have been easy. The artist explored his own homosexuality in extremely personal ways, touching upon both its cultural implications and its amorous and erotic manifestations. Khakhar painted homosexual love, life, and encounters from a distinctively Indian perspective.


Bhupen Khakhar never tried to hide his homosexuality. In well-known works like “Yayati” (1987) and “Two Men in Benares” (1985) for example, he has painted male nudes in close embrace. In terms of sheer boldness these paintings were comparable with anything that was being produced in the West at that time. Bhupen’s nudes signify a “coming out” unprecedented in Indian culture.

Bhupen graduated with a degree in Commerce from Sydenham College, passed the Chartered Accountancy exams and took up a job in Bombay. Bhupen was 27 when he came to terms with himself. In 1962 he decided to quit his job and joined his friend GulamSheikh at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University in Baroda. But living independently in Baroda, free from family pressures, Bhupen found whathe was looking for and he never went back.

By this time, he had decided he would not get married, though the family continued to talk about it for several more years. In the small town of Baroda, Bhupen also found someone he could have a steady relationship with, because, as he said, promiscuity was never part of his nature and he was not the type to cruise for one-night stands. Bhupen once said, “Gay people are naturally creative and hence drawn to the arts.”

See more at : http://bhupenkhakharcollection.com/


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