11.8.16

Artist Shreya Gulati Explores Homosexuality Through Shakuntala Devi's 1977 Book On The Subject

In celebration of 69 years of Independence, Indianama is documenting India’s history of over six decades through artworks of 69 artists.

Homosexuals
Shreya Gulati
One of the artists who partook in this collaboration is Shreya Gulati, who is a head designer at Upstox in Mumbai, and joined at the motivation of creating an India with 69 different perspectives in one room. Something that doesn’t happen very often, does it?
Every artist chose one year including and succeeding 1947, and a specific event from that particular year which they think is a defining moment in India’s history. Shreya was searching for an event that would click with her, rather than the year. And that’s how she came across Shakuntala Devi and her book, “The World of Homosexuals” which she has discussed through her art.
The 28-year-old is mainly an illustrator and works mostly with graphics and she’s told the story of Shakuntala Devi through design. “I read Shakuntala Devi’s book for the first time when I was searching for an event for this project, and I was left stunned. Her story against the backdrop of emergency was the deal maker for me.” says Shreya.
Homosexuals
Shreya Gulati
Her book, as expected from an Indian audience at the time, unfortunately went unnoticed when it was first published, but Shreya says that it still holds relevance in India. Shakuntala Devi, also known as the ‘Human Calculator’, was a mathematical genius and a child prodigy. The book on homosexuality, India’s first study on the topic, was the result of her marriage to a homosexual man.
Shreya told Indiatimes, “Here’s a woman who’s a genius. She’s a human calculator. She finds out her husband is gay and instead of out rightly shunning him, she approaches the situation with logic.”
The book, she says, was written with the idea of inclusion rather than shying away from the subject. And when the designer read the book for the first, it struck a chord with her immediately.
“I knew this was the topic I needed to highlight. It’s still so relevant to India today.”
The rights of the LGBT community have been brought to the forefront and slowly and steadily they’ve increased but their rights battle is still far from over. The discussions surrounding this issue are small, limited and sporadic. Shreya thinks the momentum needs to pick up. While she was lucky to grow up in a progressive house and continues to be surrounded by like-minded and progressive friends, she thinks that most people in India are “scared of sexuality and are trying to figure out where it fits into the Indian culture”.
Homosexuals
Shreya Gulati
India is still a patriarchal society, barring a few states and regions that are matriarchal, which means that women are still trying to create a strong grip over society by empowering themselves. Shreya believes mindsets need to change in order for the idea of sexuality to progress in the country.
The book was published around the time when emergency in India ended. People were getting their rights back. “Imagine if “The World of Homosexuals” had gained momentum then, I think India would be in a completely different place than we are now.”
It’s a fairly accepting country, she says, a diverse country that pushes people to “be accepting”. While America might just get their first female president in 2016, we’ve had many female leaders including a prime minister and president, Shreya told Indiatimes.
Through her illustration for Indianama, she has told Shakuntala Devi’s story and hopes that people will “feel the emotions I am trying to express”. Art leaves a lot of space for interpretation and her hope with this piece is that people walk away soaked in the emotion she has tried to convey.
She says, “I realise that when an audience member looks at a piece of art – either they hate it or love it. With this piece on Shakuntala Devi, all I want is that people understand the emotion I am trying to convey.”
Homosexuals
Shreya Gulati
Perhaps one of the reasons that the human calculator’s story resonated with Shreya is because she is generally attracted to issues about human sexuality and the human body. A quick scroll through her work and you’ll see multiple nudes, especially of women.
“I love women’s body”, she says. “Also men, but women are beautiful creatures and I find inspiration in exploring the human body and sexuality.” Though she adds that she fails to find confidence in her own image and art becomes her medium to confidence.
Homosexuality and sexuality, in general, is a “suppressed” issue in India and will only change when mindsets change.
Indiannama’s exhibition of 69 pieces of art telling the history and stories of India is on display at Kona in Jor Bagh Market from August 12 to 18. 

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