COLORS OF LOVE: A PICTORIAL TALE OF QUEER EROTICA

Love me like the wave loves the rock,

I will drink the elixir of despair,

In sweet fondness, my shell will crack,

Our love will break free from the shackles!!

Make love to me shattering everyone’s apprehension,

Who are ‘you’, when the ‘I’ chooses a different shore?

Leave the ‘you’, tear the ‘I’,

Let the love choose its own way in ‘us’!!

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Millions and millions of years ago, life was created on a planet called Earth which became the abode of innumerable  living creatures, discovered and unknown. Slowly as time grew, its petals unfolded, each creating new beings in the air of evolution. Races emerged, some progressed, some survived, and some perished to remain as lore of the bygone past. The human beings, classified as the Homo sapiens, proved to be a remarkable species of nature’s creation, presenting diversity in terms of physical and sexual orientations, which are in a constant flux owing to the dynamism of evolution. While the diverse physical attributes have often been a source of inspiration for poets, writers, film makers and also a source of sovereignty, the diversified sexual orientations, except heterosexuality, the most common, dominant and accepted form of sexual orientation, have been imprisoned in the impasse of patriarchy and have a long route to traverse before they can be accepted as something which is not a ‘taboo’. Works of art on these variegated sexual orientations have marked their presence in the writings of the Greek poet Sappho as early as around 600 BCE, in the poems of Roman poet, Catullus ( around 70 BCE)  and in the Ajanta-Ellora sculptures of ancient India among others. Expressed by a handful of artists these sexual orientations are still stereotyped and tabooed in our society. Two creative friends who have been models and photographers from West Bengal, India, Dr. Archan Mukherjee and lawyer Kaushik Gupta collaborated to bring out the beauty of the love of these diversified sexual orientations, for which they use the word, ‘queer’ to  create a series of photographs depicting the queer erotica in their calendar of 2016, titled, Colors of Love. In very enriching interviews, the amiable artists talked about their journey of creation and various shades of the project. As I replayed the voice recordings, I found myself as a wanderer in the land of queer erotica, who slowly discovers the beatitude of the place, enlightened by the creators. So, hop on to my wings of words and let me be the guide to this enchanting land of queer erotica, Colors of Love.

Understanding the ‘Queer’:

Why ‘Queer’? This is a common question which strikes us the moment we come across the theme of the calendar, ‘queer erotica’. Not many of us are well informed of the connotation of the word ‘queer’ and we often tend to use it along with LGBT i.e.  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender  and tend to categorize it as a hermetic body. Recently, the term LGBTQ+ has come into existence which conforms to the right usage of the word.

‘The etymological meaning of the word, queer is weird,’ explains Kaushik Gupta while talking about his idea of the queer. ‘But then, it started to be used as in a derogatory way. Queer, according to me is someone who does not follow normative fashion and queer should not necessarily imply sexual orientation or gender; it can refer to anything and everything which is non- normative.’

Kaushik Gupta points out the reason of this ambiguity that revolves around ‘queer’. ‘The main problem is,’ he states, ‘most of us tend to judge anything in terms of binary. But in reality, this is not so. While we are saying LGBTQ+, this means it can be LGBTQABCDIJK+++++++ anything and everything under the sun and queer can imply all of these.’

Similar notion echoes in the words of Dr. Mukherjee as he says, ‘Queer is not just LGBT. In fact, LGBT is within the ‘Queer Spectrum’. ’

The photographs of the calendar reflect this notion of queer as we find the play of erotica, not just between two individuals but among more than two, with characters belonging to various colors of the spectrum, embracing the ethos of the word, ‘queer’.

Colors of Love: The Origin:

One fine day, the two friends didn’t just wake up and decided to create Colors of Love. Two stories of two people crisscrossed and unleash the aura of Colors of Love. The project is not just a journey through photographs but also a raconteur of stories, depicting dormant wishes, waves of struggle, zephyrs of new ideas, of pushing the boundaries and the mellow dawn of acceptation, finally showing the light of the day in the harmonic collaboration of two individuals who orchestrated this queer erotica.

     Interest in photography came from his modeling days, as Dr. Archan Mukherjee, slowly, learning the art decided to put it in practice. Death of the Bengali director Rituporno Ghosh in 2013 piqued in him a desperation to continue the flow of work on gender queerness. This, aided by some of the stalwarts in the industry gave birth to Silent Saga, Calendar 2014. Portrayed in a tune of a fairy tale romance, Silence Saga brings out the untold stories of queer people of colonial Bengal. It was followed by City in Love, Calendar 2015 which narrated the untold romantic tales of queer people in Kolkata. The desire to push himself, and redefining himself instigated Dr. Mukherjee  in thinking about how much do we talk about ‘sex’ among the queer people.

‘377 never says that it is a crime to be LGBTQ+’, Dr Mukherjee narrates, ‘it just criminalizes a particular kind of act. Love has no value in the eyes of law. So, if love is not counted as an element to be tried and being LGBTQ+ is not a crime, the question arises, are we not fighting shadows?  How much have we talked about sex (used in the sense of sexual intercourse) ? Why are we not talking about sex? So let’s talk about things like sex which is not talked about and is still considered as a taboo.’

 From this, Dr. Mukherjee zeroed in the concept of his project and gave it the code name, ‘Queer Erotica’, in order to talk about things which have been tabooed in the society. ‘An adult is involved in queer erotica,’ he explains. ‘And there is the consent of the party. So why should we taboo this act? Let’s talk about it. Let’s make people understand that there is no reason to taboo it in our society.’

Deciding to work on queer erotica, he felt the need to incorporate BDSM among the queer and would often seek the help of Kaushik Gupta. Kaushik who modeled in Mukherjee’s previous works was already working on the kinky community and added valuable inputs in the project. While Mukherjee was planning his third calendar, Kaushik Gupta was planning to work on a project related to the kinky community after he saw a poster in the last Pride march in Delhi which stated, ‘KINKY IS QUEER’.  Having known about the marginalization the kinky community faces within the queer spectrum, Gupta wanted to work on something which would help remove the alienation.

‘The kinky community suffers dual marginalization,’  Gupta explicates, ‘ First by the heterosexuals for being queer and second, for practicing BDSM by the queer community. They nurture an internalized phobia which is often associated with a feeling of guilt. I wanted to work on it and show everyone that being kinky is not a taboo. In fact, BDSM is based on consent, something which is not even present in the so called sacrosanct institution of marriage. So when Archan asked me for the project, I agreed. This is my first work as a photographer.’  This gave birth to Colors of Love, the calendar portraying queer erotica.

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The title of the calendar, Colors of Love draws its name from its content of queer erotica. Erotica has always been an expression of love and the inclusion of BDSM adds weight to the title. ‘BDSM too is an act of love,’ Gupta explains, ‘but most people tend to confine it to mere physical activity. In reality, there is an immense expression of love when two or more people are practicing BDSM.’  Gupta’s words delineate the existence of love among the BDSM practitioners, in their act of dominance of submission, of taking control, establishing the sense of verity and responsibility. ‘It takes place only by consent,’ Gupta adds, ‘and even in most marital relationships, especially in India, the consent of the bride is not considered. BDSM can never take place without consent and that is where the love lies. People who practice BDSM even get married to each other.’

Colors of Love: A Kaleidoscopic View:

In our journey of exploring the various elements of Colors of Love, we have experienced the glaciers of creation and now we arrive at the peak of the mountain, overlooking the sea, which renders a kaleidoscopic view of the various landscapes and dominating elements of this mesmerizing dimension.

Monochrome:  The visual images portrayed in monochrome ignite a mysterious aura in the eyes of the audience. ‘It was my call,’ Dr. Mukherjee says, ‘ firstly, I wanted to avoid the struggle of creating a standard tonal quality of pictures taken by mobile light, torch light and others , all of which vary. My second motive was to create a mystery by using the play of light and dark as erotica is often received by the audience as something prohibited.’

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Props: A look into the photographs will display a use of wide range of props like the whip, the cage, a male chastity tool, among others, things which are not common in the Indian context. Kaushik Gupta clarifies this use of uncommon props by saying, ‘Dildo is a common prop for a man and woman. However props like flogger, a male chastity belt, a cage, being uncommon in the Indian context, will initiate a dialogue. We used such non-normative toys to initiate these dialogues so that a common human being will take interest in them, would ask us the reason behind their usage and in this way, will get accustomed to such non- normative elements.’

Breaking Norms of the Body: The breaking of norms is a dominant theme of Colors of Love, a theme which is reiterated in every aspect. When it came to the photographs and the choosing of models, the theme was maintained. ‘It was a conscious decision on our part,’ Kaushik Gupta explains. ‘Every year, in Kingfisher’s erotic calendars, we find women in swim-suits with the perfect body. But we wanted to break this notion of perfect body. Hence, our models ranged from skinny figures to bulgy ones. Apart from these physical attributes, we also had photographs with scenes like a woman reclining and watching two men, engaged in erotica. Replacing the ‘male gaze’ with the ‘female gaze’, we attempted at breaking stereotypes and question why should a female be denied of the rights of pleasure. All of this was done by using the body.’ The ethos of love flows in the choosing of bodies too. Beatitude sparkles in bodies of different types, be it the slender curve of a man or a polished bulge of a woman.

A Sneak-Peak into the Calendar

From Visually Pleasing Photographs to a More Alternate Ones: Moving away from the visually pleasing photographs and creating more alternate ones was an act which was done out of volition. ‘Using the alternate photographs, we wanted to show that indulging in sex is not a bad thing,’ Kaushik Gupta says,’ and also how the BDSM community values consent.  The interesting part is, the ‘apparent violence’ in BDSM is not ‘violation’. ’

Colors of Love: The Crew:

The crew of queer erotica is a fascinating one like the project itself. It is obvious for models to be skeptical about a project which aims at breaking stereotypes and deals with an issue which is tabooed in the society. However, friends of Archan Mukherjee and Kaushik Gupta agreed and they did not belong to any particular category. Their identities ranged from homosexuals to LGBTQ+ and heterosexuals. ‘The heterosexuals were curious,’ Kaushik Gupta informs, ‘ and they were even interested in role play.’

Colors of Love: Reactions:

Initial Reaction:  The initial reaction of Colors of Love was quite convoluted. After the first look of the Facebook page, Colors of Love, in Monochrome; Calendar 2016 , people were curious about the content. The use of the word, ‘erotica’ evoked an air of negativity which explained the reason behind 2 likes for a post with 5500 views. ‘It is good but it is not family entertainment,’ Archan Mukherjee quotes a friend. However, a positive vibe was generated when the video of the first look of the calendar was released. Sharing of the video accompanied by comments created a platform for the work. People started talking about, creating a wave of demand but they too were baffled in the beginning. They dwelt in the ambiguity of praising the work and their limitation of taking it to their homes. This reaction of ‘the work is very good but we cannot display it in our drawing room’ catered to a large number of people who were friends of Archan Mukherjee and Kaushik Gupta.

Media: ‘Media has always been supportive to my work always,’ Dr. Mukherjee stated.  ‘I never had formal media launch for my previous two works but has a formal platform where the calendars were released. ’However, the people who supported them, declined this one for their patriarchal, orthodox values, which they claimed were absent in them.

‘The media is not the issue,’ Dr. Mukherjee points out. ‘The main issue is the people who claim to be representative of a certain kind but act the opposite. How is it possible for someone to criticize without even going through the content? Issue is the hypocritical behavior of these people.’

        Days and months of intellectual and physical labor culminated in the photographs of City of Love. As we come to the end of our journey, we are accoutered with a different perception, a new one which teaches us to see the beautiful and respect ever changing, magical world around us, a world full of astounding living beings. The calendar breaks the impediment of patriarchy and heterosexual norms and introduces us to a world unknown, a world which gives a chance to relocate ourselves in the diversified spectrum. We are left with a feeling, not just of appreciation, but of awe as we bask in the cognizance of an enchanting erotica portrayed in Colors of Love by Dr. Archan Mukherjee and Kaushik Gupta. I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Archan Mukherjee and Kaushik Gupta for their cooperation.

Photography Courtesy: Dr. Archan Mukherjee and Kaushik Gupta 

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About the Author

ajd author picAparajita Dutta is a research scholar (M.Phil, Jadavpur University) in Comparative Literature. She has been selected by Penguin India as a contributing author for their anthology Tell me a Story (released in 2015). She is a blogger herself and also writes for the football blog GOAlden Times. She works on gender studies and translation studies and is an active member of  Civilian Welfare Foundation.

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