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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 16:22 GMT
Smashing India's sexual taboos
Portraits of my mother and my father going to Yatra, 1971
Early Khahkar works draw on Indian references
Bhupen Khakhar is one of India's most famous contemporary painters but he is little known outside the subcontinent.

As his first European retrospective opened at Salford's Lowry Centre, he explained to the BBC World Service's Arts In Action programme, why he has struggled to gain a wider reputation.

"My interest is something which is around me, something which is part of my life, the things that I see," he explained.

"Most artists don't do these subjects as they are taboo, and I think, let me do it."

Sexuality

Bhupen Khakhar has always tackled difficult and taboo subjects in his work, whether the Hindu/ Muslim conflict within India or his own homosexuality.

Over a decade ago he started to produce works based on his experiences of being a gay man in India.

Untitled 2000 by Bhupen Khakhar: Part of Century City show at the Tate Modern, London
Khakhar often draws on Indian popular culture
"I did not announce it verbally, but there were paintings that related to gay subjects," he explained.

"At first the galleries didn't like them. Some removed my work from their walls saying that young people would see and they would get bad ideas about sex."

Refusing to allow them to display the rest of the show unless they included all of his work, Khakhar fought for the paintings to be seen.

Looking back he recalled how it was a difficult time for a gay man in India.

"Now I feel amused, but at that time I felt very pressurised because in India there are hardly any painters doing gay subjects," he said.

"I felt ostracised and even my friends advised me to see a doctor."

Kitsch

In 1962, Bhupen Khakhar abandoned a career in chartered accountancy and enrolled in art school in the state of Gujarat.

Drawing on the Indian popular culture that surrounded him, his early work was inspired by cinema posters and street kitsch.

In his 40s and following the death of his mother, Khakhar travelled to London.

Here, not limited to Indian scenes, he began to reflect on his new surroundings.

British writer Tariq Ali is the owner of Man In A Pub, one of Khakhar's paintings from this period.

"It is very much an Indian painter's view of an English pub," Ali explained.

"Khakhar told me that what used to shock him, what was so unlike India, was that you could go into a pub in England and there was someone sitting at the bar alone, drinking the whole evening, without saying a word and then leaving."

The Bhupen Khakhar retrospective takes place at the Lowry Centre in Salford, Greater Manchester, until 5 January.


Click here to go to Manchester
See also:

04 Sep 00 | South Asia
20 Feb 02 | South Asia
26 Jun 02 | Entertainment
20 Aug 02 | Entertainment
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