Hide and Seek

A psychological exploration of the LGBT community in eastern India

01 April 2018
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IN AN IMAGE from Soumya Sankar Bose’s photographic series, two bodies are locked in an embrace, with only their silhouettes visible. Despite being in the shadows, their intimacy is palpable—in the tilt of their heads, the tenderness of the embrace and the intensity of their gaze.

In Bose’s composition, light entering through the window falls on a crown of flowers worn by one of the individuals, perhaps to suggest to the viewer the nature of their hidden identities in real life. This play of light hides as much as it reveals.

Immersing the viewer in a surreal universe is crucial to Bose’s project “Full moon on a Dark Night.” By way of these portraits, Bose conducts a psychological exploration of a community of individuals who have been relentlessly persecuted by society because of their identities and their gender or sexual orientations. The work looks closely at the LGBT community in eastern India through a fantastical lens, often projecting a world devoid of restrictive laws and social taboos that the community regularly comes up against. Other images in the work are responses to these very constraints imposed by the state and society. It is here that Bose makes use of visual metaphors—a gas mask, a tiger in the wild, a choppy sea engulfing a man struggling against the current—to evoke notions of censorship and surveillance and feelings of suffocation and anxiety.

Bose, a Kolkata-based photographer, started researching his project in 2015, in which he began to “listen to the dreams, desires and nightmares” of his friends and acquaintances. With a preference for making work in familiar territory, with people he knows and places he belongs to, Bose hoped to “tell a story of our generation and the issues it faces everyday.” Using the anecdotes and fantasies that surfaced during his conversations and interviews with the people he photographs, his staged portraits tease the boundaries between truth and fiction. For a community whose voice is often marginalised, this imagined reality offers a rare refuge, one where desires and aspirations are free to be explored and expressed.

While making his work, Bose spends a considerable amount of time with the people he photographs—whom he terms as his “collaborators”—in an attempt to understand their psyches and visualise their vulnerabilities. The act of performance central to the process of constructing these images can be empowering and cathartic for the actors. As authors of their own scripts, they define their representations away from the tyrannical gaze of society. Bose mentioned that a friend he had photographed was toying with the idea of inviting his father to his ongoing exhibition at Experimenter gallery in Kolkata. He said, “He was never able to tell his father about his choice of love, but he now thinks that this exhibition may be a good way to let his father know.”

Soumya Sankar Bose earned a diploma in photography from the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Dhaka. His project Full Moon on a Dark Night was awarded the Magnum Foundation's Photography and Social Justice Fellowship in 2017. In 2015, he received the India Foundations for the Arts grant for his project Lets Sing an Old Song. 

Keywords: gender LGBT community Section 377 Kolkata sexuality transgender
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