Conference Report: Architecture of Erotica

The Architectures of Erotica: Interdisciplinary conference at the School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Art Exhibitions: Mithu Sen’s “Black Candy [iforgotmypenisathome]” and ‘Waste’ curated by the M.A. students of the School of Arts &Aesthetics, JNU.
“The Architectures of Erotica,” an interdisciplinary conference held at the School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi offered an intellectually arousing trajectory through the political, ritualistic and social aspects of the erotic in the visual, performative and cinematic arts. The four-day conference from the 10th to the 13th of November, 2010 comprised the reading of academic papers, two exhibition openings and a performance that engaged with topics ranging from sexual imagery in ancient Indian sculptures to virtual spaces as sites for homosexual cruising.
Some of the papers read at the conference included – “Notion of Eroticism in the Context of Tawaifs, Nautch Dancers, and Mujra Dance” by dance critic and scholar Sunil Kothari, “Congress of Kings: Thoughts on paintings of kings having sex” by art historian and associate professor at the School of Arts & Aesthetics Kavita Singh, and ‘Naughty Girls: The pin up in Blitz’ by filmmaker and scholar, Sabeena Gadihoke. The conceptions, interpretations and representations of the bawdy, the lewd, the pornographic, the totemic and talismanic, the sexually offensive, the celebration of the cult of fertility, the overtly-sexualized contemporary visual culture —all formed subjects of discussion at the forum.
Sudipto Chatterjee, in collaboration with Soumya Chakrabarti and Mriganabhi Chattopadhyay presented “Man of the Heart,” a performance about the life of Lalon Shah Phokir, a nineteenth century Bengali Sufi saint who, through his songs spoke of a devotional, transcendental erotic rather than a fleshly one. The piece was creatively spun around the songs of the saint—the meaning of a mystical erotic accrued on the actors’ body.
“Waste,” a show curated by the M.A. students of the School of Arts and Aesthetics ‘Black Candy’ created by Mithu Sen, both at the gallery on the first floor of the New Building of the School were the two exhibitions inaugurated during the conference. Mithu Sen’s “Black Candy [iforgotmypenisathome],” explores masculinity and its intimately felt bodily experiences of taste, touch, defecation, desire, the social codes of acceptable male behavior, the agony of the masculine subject’s unfulfilled aspirations, the anxieties and pressures exerted by patriarchy and its unarticulated vulnerabilities. Through mixed medium on paper, text and sound installations Sen juxtaposes the morbid, obscene and ghastly with funny tropes associated with masculinity. She sketches out the extremes of disease and power as both locate themselves in the body and psyche of a man that often wishes he could reproduce like a woman. Sen offers the naked body as candy but you soon realize that it’s not a pretty pink lolly but an ugly, dark, unappetizing and discomfiting sweet presented with a sardonic sneer. ‘Black Candy’ has been previously displayed at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai.
‘Waste’ forms the flip side of ‘The Architectures of Erotica’ as waste materials evoke a sense of disgust at what we may have consumed avariciously. The exhibition is a result of students’ research on and engagement with rag-pickers and other workers involved in disposing and recycling Delhi’s solid waste as part of their course, “On Curating.” Karan Kapoor photographs Delhi’s industrial area of Gazipur, which generates 2200 MT of solid waste everyday that is dumped in open spaces posing serious health and environmental hazards. A smoke filled skyline, soot-filled surroundings, discarded plastic bottles, torn shoes, crushed tin cans, a deflated football, a withered marigold garland, wrappers and packets, all form the subject matter of Kapoor’s incisive photography. A large calendar represents a rag-picker’s daily schedule through pictorial and textual depictions of her trails and tribulations, joys, anxieties, and responses to the society whose trash they collect and yet are ostracized by. The wooden calendar installation insinuates the varied shades of the story of the immigrant laborer who ekes out a wage that is barely enough for subsistence while struggling with the occupational hazards involving the separation and collection of toxic waste.

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‘The Architectures of Erotica’ successfully demonstrates a historically marked floor-plan of the erotic in the Indian context marking the points of both its celebration and censorship. The interdisciplinary conference and the pair of art exhibits that opened with it act as aphrodisiacs for an intellectual orgy of critical and scholarly thought.

(All images courtesy of the artists.)

Note: This article was first published @ Artslant.com

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