[VoxSpace Life] The Nude Art Conundrum – Cost Of Artistic Freedom In India

The Recent Story Of Fine Arts Colleges In India And Struggle For A Muse

The manifestation of sringara rasa, with its overt sexuality in ancient Khajuraho temple, has long acted as a canon when it comes to the naked sensual female body in Indian art.  Yet, live nude art in India has failed to disengage itself from simply being an object for sexual titillation, a subject immoral to be preached or practised.

In 2013, the women’s wing of Vishva Hindu Parishad, barged into Delhi Art Gallery where an exhibition was going on, dealing explicitly with the nude and sensuous. The demand for an immediate prohibition of such exhibitions blatantly dealing with the skin game was on the horizon, however, the ban was never really ceremoniously passed. The conundrum reminds us of the Government’s attempt to incorporate sex education, which was subsequently met with protests from religious organizations as well as various women’s wings. These might be two different topics on the surface but their unsolicited involvement has borne the same result- ignorance.   

The disquiet that ensued hinted at the unacceptance of nudity in society, affecting students, models, and galleries, with many professionals forced to place their works on social media, displayed for free. Artists seldom claim their copyright on such platforms and more than often, the artworks are downloaded for personal usages by the anonymous lot.

Struggling artists, or students recently graduated from college, are forced into marketing their works through social media, the platform already throbbing with young talents. Artists strive to find solidarity amongst like-minded peers, since exhibiting in traditional galleries accessible by the general mass is a far cry. Their acceptance is restricted within a limited space. Although a handful of these works have managed to reach out to various art connoisseurs, the central issue of undemocratic intrusion into artistic freedom remains unsolved.

“People may soon have to paint only from photographs,” Gayatri Mehta, former secretary of the Art Society on India comments on the pitiable condition of the tradition of live nude art drawings in colleges; she was a model herself during the late 80s.

Politics Of Nude In The Art- Who Are Paying The Price?

Due to this conservative attitude against nudity, many art colleges, prominent ones like Rabindra Bharati University, have buckled under the pressure and eliminated the practice of nude art study. This should be partially attributed to the lack of fund that would arrange for a decent pay to the models and public disgrace that revolves around the practices of nude art in India.

Models are perhaps the most dejected recipient of this virulent loathing that lives nude art stirs among the masses; they are poorly paid, stigmatised and at times are forced to quit their jobs.  Narratives of mental and physical tortures on models, social alienation etc are not unheard of, and these factors accentuate into an uneasiness within the models.

The Delhi College of Arts has a compulsory paper dealing with aesthetics of the nude, however, the faculty members go through a brief ordeal before procuring a model who would pose for a stretch in exchange of 200-250/. The practice has been dragged to the nadir of degeneration. The colleges sometimes look amongst sweepers or janitors if somebody is willing to model for the students at a low rate.

There are students who claim themselves as vanguards of “free body culture” and work as volunteers, sitting through sessions for other students to sketch down anatomy using charcoal on paper. It has to be remembered that the model is never a subject of raw sexuality or eroticism to the students, rather they are simply viewed as still-life objects, invaluable for its anatomy, an indispensable part of students’ learning process. With outsiders’ imposition, it leads to the subsequent dismembering of an artist’s imagination that every art college student should be permitted to exercise.  

Nude art exhibitions have been banned and disrupted in major cities like Delhi and Bangalore by political parties. Gallery owners and artists are put to shame for flaunting an indecent exhibition, aimed to degenerate women in society.

It would be unfair to conclude that only a certain class of people is the harbinger of such rancour because it would not have been so powerful unless sustained by the majority, the repercussions are felt across the entire system of art and culture. While some art colleges manage with the unavailability of male models, men complain about the lack of work or no pay in the profession and meanwhile, students have to sketch from second-hand sources.

“The prevalent culture is partly responsible for this discrepancy…Nobody offered me more money to pose nude either,” Model Subrata Mukherjee to TOI.

The profession furthermore needs a lot of physical endurance. However, with a dwindling fund and poor pay scale, it is also hard to find models who would strain themselves for long hours.

Nude Art In 21St  Century India

Today, the nude in the art is condemned as a gimmick by artists to come into the limelight. Many Indian artists are taking up the challenge of normalizing the sexual and erotic in the art with satire. Maitri Dore is one of the famous illustrators to start with, Tsohil Bhatia is engaged with live art, dealing with nude to explain the synthesis between the mind and body, Guysexual and of course Gayatri Mehta who now once posed nude has her now own compilation.

Artists are plagued with one problem or the other, not many buyers are inclined towards hanging a nude on the wall, especially in front of children and elders. The discomfiture is deep-rooted, and even from a business point of view, it becomes difficult for the artists to sell the flesh in art. In this context, Dr M S Murthy chairman of Karnataka Lalitkala Academy remarks “Young students of art in the city and state are missing out a lot. There is no all-round development as an artist…”