Sunil Gupta (b. 1953)
A photographer, curator and activist, Sunil Gupta is renowned for his documentation of queerness across India, the UK and the US, making photographs that deal with identities around diaspora and race. Gupta’s practice deals primarily with the expression of sexuality and intimacy in public spaces as well as the specific local complexities that western and south Asian countries add to these concerns.
Born in New Delhi, Gupta began to be interested in photography soon after he and his family moved to Montreal in 1969. In 1972, he enrolled to study commerce at Concordia University, Montreal, where he became a part of the Gay Liberation Movement. By the mid-1970s, Gupta had relocated to New York to study finance, but later abandoned this to study photography under Lisette Model at The New School for Social Research. In 1977, Gupta moved to the UK, receiving a diploma in photography from the West Surrey College of Art and Design followed by a Master’s from the Royal College of Art.
While at Concordia, he documented the civil rights marches and the cultural expressions of queer communities in the city through photographs that reflect the frankness of an insider who was also examining the implications of race and migration on his sexuality. His acclaimed series Christopher Street (1976), taken during this time, was his first as a practising artist. The series takes its name from the location where police raids set the Stonewall uprisings in motion and captured the uninhibited claiming of a gay public space. The photographs were collected and published in a book titled Christopher Street 1976 (2018).
In the 1980s, Gupta became more closely aligned with black, left-wing cultural activism in London and joined the Greater London Council (GLC). He observed that sexuality and race presented a more demanding political struggle in London than in New York, and his work during the period was rooted in the lives of black, south Asian, queer, working-class and disabled people across Britain and India. His reportage series Reflections of the Black Experience (1986), commissioned by the GLC, played a critical role in the founding of Autograph ABP, which supports and promotes black photographers.
A commission from the Photographers’ Gallery, London, in the early-1980s brought him back to Delhi with the aim of documenting queer activism in the city. His work during this period, especially series such as Towards a Gay Indian Image (1983) and Exiles (1987), explored the complex ways in which gay Indian men navigated secrecy and claiming public space. These largely candid colour images were often accompanied by comments from the subjects, or verses from poems. Another important body of work is From Here to Eternity (1999), a series of six diptychs commissioned by Autograph ABP that Gupta created in the months following his diagnosis as HIV-positive and documents his experiences following a series of illnesses.
Some of his other notable solo and group shows and commissioned works include Sun City (2010); Queer Migrations (2015); and Delhi: Communities of Belonging, created with Charan Singh (2017). In 2020, the Photographers’ Gallery held a retrospective of his work titled From Here to Eternity. Gupta rejected gallery representation till the early-2000s, instead creating his works through funding from non-profit organisations as well as photojournalism assignments. At present, his photographs are part of the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate London; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, among others.
As of writing, Gupta lives and works out of London.
Abel-Hirsch, Hannah. 2020. “Sunil Gupta on his life, his work, and gay-rights since the sixties.” British Journal of Photography. October 06. https://www.1854.photography/2020/10/sunil-gupta-on-his-life-his-work-and-gay-rights-since-the-sixties/
Gupta, Sunil, and Manpreet. 2020. “Sunil Gupta: photographing India’s queer scene over 50 years.” The Face. October 08. https://theface.com/culture/sunil-gupta-art-the-photographers-gallery-from-here-to-eternity-exhibition Jhala, Kabir. 2020. “‘We Wanted to Have Sex All the Time’: First Major Survey of Sunil Gupta—Photographer of Gay Indian Life—Opens in London.” The Art Newspaper. October 06. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/preview/sunil-gupta-photographer-s-gallery-london
Mani, Bakirathi. 2020. “Archives of Diaspora.” In Unseeing Empire: Photography, Representation, South Asian America, 192–93. Duke University Press.Passi, Shalini. n.d. “Shalini Passi in Conversation with Sunil Gupta.” MASH. Accessed April 21, 2021. https://www.mashindia.com/shalini-passi-in-conversation-with-sunil-gupta.phpStephen Bulger Gallery. n.d. “Sunil Gupta”. Accessed April 21, 2021 https://www.bulgergallery.com/artists/25-sunil-gupta/biography/