Thursday 15th October

| BY Paul Toner

Ten’s to See: ‘From Here To Eternity: Sunil Gupta. A Retrospective’ at The Photographers’ Gallery

If you attended Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at the Barbican earlier this year, you would’ve come across Sunil Gupta’s Exiles series (1986-87); an intimate portrayal of gay men living in India whilst homosexuality was still criminalised, and punishable by up to ten years of prison time right until 2018. These images were actually commissioned by The Photographers’ Gallery, which currently houses the photographer’s first-ever major retrospective, From Here to Eternity. 

It’s quite astonishing to discover that Gupta has never had a major retrospective, until now. For the past 50 or so years, the Indian-born, UK-based photographer has told the stories of LGBTQIA+ people across the globe. As personal as it is political, Gupta’s subversive approach to image-making has challenged taboos surrounding sexuality and raised awareness of the lack of basic human rights gay people have worldwide – from New York to New Dehli.

Uniting five decades of work, from sixteen series in total, the exhibition is a true eye-opener as to how Gupta’s tender insight into the private lives of queer people globally has been able to tackle public perceptions surrounding race, gender, sexuality and identity.

India Gate, 1987. From the series ‘Exiles’. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery,
Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery.

His most recognisable work, Christopher Street (1976) was actually the first series the photographer made as a practising artist, documenting New York’s gay scene living in Greenwich Village. Gupta has been able, throughout his career, to use his own lived experiences to comment on wider socio-political issues. Here to Eternity – the 1999 series which shares a title with the exhibition – was produced in the aftermath of Gupta discovering he was HIV positive, documenting both his community’s reaction to his diagnosis as well as his own fear of death. 

Another project – dubbed “Pretended” Family Relationships (1988) – explored Margaret Thatcher’s vile Section 28 clause, which stopped councils and schools “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” – which only overturned in 2003. In a similar vein, Gupta’s 2008 series The New Pre-Raphaelites pictured South Asian gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals in hyper staged realities – a reaction to the fight against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law that allowed for arrests and imprisonment for any homosexual act.


Untitled #13, 2008. From the series ‘The New Pre-Raphaelites’. Courtesy the artist
and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery.

Celebratory is one word to describe Gupta’s work, brave another. His tireless dedication to liberate his subjects from the shackles of prejudice they may receive from the outside world is as poignant now as it was in the 1970s, ‘80s and beyond. A true must-see.

Top image: Untitled #9, 2010. From the series ‘Sun City’. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery. ‘From Here to Eternity: Sunil Gupta. A Retrospective’ is open at The Photographers’ Gallery, London until 24 January, 2021.

thephotographersgallery.org.uk

Untitled #22, 1976. From the series ‘Christopher Street’. Courtesy the artist and
Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery.

Manpreet, 2011. From the series ‘Mr Malhotra’s Party’. Courtesy the artist and
Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery.