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Articles on Indian contemporary art by Swapna Vora

Satadru Sovan Banduri's Rare Blue Moons
by Swapna VoraSwapna VoraSwapna Vora has written on Indian art for years. She was VP at Asia TV Network, GM at UTV, and editor at the Taj magazine and the Indian Express.

She has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Kenya, Lebanon, Britain, etc. and misses them. She now works in America and in India.

February 14, 2012

(click on the small image for full screen image with captions)

Fig. 1
“Am I what I wear?” If I am or choose to be female, is it essential to wear these clothes or adopt those mannerisms? Is gender a decision? Is it essentially unimportant, like race or skin color? Satadru Sovan Banduri depicts modern sexuality, where many do not seem to care what gender their girlfriends are. He examines humanity's latent fantasies that are, of course, everywhere. Maybe biology was destiny for Freud himself. Apparently proving him wrong colorfully, gleefully and repeatedly are some today who choose to defy biology and express sexuality differently.

Fig. 2
Artist and Fulbright Scholar Satadru Sovan Banduri has painted a goodly scene of two gay men, with gorgeous masculine backs under a rare blue moon, staring at a far-off destination. Two lovely men hold each other, one in low-rise blue jeans, the other, not to be outdone, in a low-rise lungi. One has nicely gelled hair, the other holds a cell phone, presumably to make connections. Their tattoos, low rise outfits and well-developed bodies pay homage to the cult of physical beauty, paramount all over the globe. Both look far away, into the azure distance. The cobalt tinged with turquoise night reveals secrets and falsehoods securely covered up during the day. Blue connotes the dark, romantic night and implies that people may not feel free enough to come out during the day. They do not show their faces, perhaps due to social or personal constraints. Worried about social disapproval or terrorized, they may be constrained to let themselves be themselves only in the dark.

Fig. 3
The phallic Kutub Minar resembles a rocket shooting into outer space near these lovely moonlit muscled backs. Satadru says they are near Delhi's Kutub Minar and are looking towards Gurgaon. Gurgaon is urban and offers gay men more liberty, more freedom to meet each other and experiment with the many dimensions of being human. Over it all, floats the blue moon serenely, a blue moon, with its implications of rarity, of the blues and surreptitious nighttime meetings. Where love, kindness and emotion occur in this story, one does not know. This then is perhaps the universe's trick on humans. It is easy to find someone, easy to slide into bed and yet all the yearning in the world cannot change desire into the incandescent dimension of love.

Fig. 4
Satadru is not gay himself and says he is neither for nor against homosexuality but simply an observer of social mores. He notes that instead of time honored vegetable hair oil, young men now use gel to slick down their heads. He says that once upon a time, sexuality used to be a covert operation. Indian society has now changed and social networking transformed with the advent of internet vehicles like Orkut. With Orkut and its equivalents, he says, a lot of people of assorted genders are interacting sexually. People sometimes want to hide themselves for various reasons, often simply for privacy. One may take a new name, a new persona, put a photograph of one's enhanced face and attach it to a body snitched from a Calvin Klein advertisement. In the US, where fat is a cultural sin, internet lovers often pretend the skinny me is the real me! The skin no one has ever seen is my real, flawless skin!

Fig. 5
One wonders what happens when people actually meet and discover a fat lump of corruption instead of the promised svelte physique. (In the US, one person got so angry that he killed the deceitful person!) These beautiful bodies are found on the internet, downloaded or dragged down and merrily pasted to their own faces. Social masks to hide themselves! Popular body images are of whatever is admired in the west and quite unlike the Khajuraho males. The current trend in the west is to admire anorexic bodies and apparently some people, possibly practicing the ultimate in self improvement, starved themselves to attain this ideal of beauty and died in the process.

Fig. 6
In India, says Satadru, people prefer to hide their sexuality. Traditionally, especially in small towns, people could not cross social boundaries easily. However, says Satadru, gay men are interacting with each other, showing off nonexistent beautiful physiques, nonexistent identities. Virtual sexuality! Many today seem mighty happy just with internet meetings! Presumably, less time consuming, inexpensive and one need not dress up or down for the occasion. Maybe it is the latest thing to be outsourced: find one willing local person recommended by one's long distance internet pal! Satadru says nothing about lesbians, trannies, hijdas, etc..

Fig. 7
Satadru’s calls this the journey of The City. The City has been there since time began: under prehistoric folk, then under early Hindu kings, then under assorted Moguls, the British Raj, and today the government of India. ‘Chalo Delhi’ has long been a rallying cry for action and a journey to the capital. The journey depicted here is from smelly vegetable oil to smellier synthetic gel, from the old traditional dusty city to new, dustier developments in Gurgaon, and these people are now possibly even looking to reach the moon, to “See what sex is like on Saturn and Mars.” Time and space are important and may carry the true story of metros like New Delhi and its neighbor, Gurgaon. Fashion and style, however carry sell-by dates and are time barred. What we did then and thought of as cutting edge and trendy can look not just quaint but positively mad later. It may not be fashionable tomorrow.

Satadru is actually searching social norms in India, researching human situations and finds many people in the act of crossing boundaries. “I am a creative person. I continuously observe the metrosexuals of our time, a fashionable citybred species, concerned about physique and appearance, valuing style. How does metro life change from day to day? I work a lot, observing metrosexuality. For example, I look at guys who choose to wear lots of jewelry. I am not against or for this, I am simply an artist, a witness of our time. This is raw material for my canvases.”

Fig. 8
Satadru says, “Consumerism consumes people’s individuality and turns them into larger than life entities...” or that “Life in a Metro like Delhi and all its conceivable aspects from mobile SMS lingo to branded designer wear for men are inspiration and subject-matter for my work. The viewer would come across men and women immaculately attired in designer labels juggling professional and personal lives. Men and women who are genderless sometimes but assert their sexuality the very next moment.” (, accessed November, 2008).

In the US, Satadru wanted to observe American polygamy but 'met with no response from the polygamists' and others he contacted. Every few weeks the US media has some terrible, sorry tale of polygamy, sad children tormented in the name of religion and face-offs between the media, the police and some bearded, ‘religious looking’ patriarchs who seem to be in active need of personal grooming. As soon as one phenomenon zooms off our radar, news of another orgy with pedophiles reaches the media. Satadru wanted to contact these people but found no takers. He says he tried to meet people from Manhattan’s subcultures. For example, there are people there who live in a sort of urban commune of fifty where sexuality is not restrained, where they are all free to be with each other. We talked of Hindu polyandry where, like the traditional queen, Draupadi, many women have several husbands. Today this is practiced and popular with hill tribes and some who inhabit the Himalayan foothills.

Fig. 9
Satadru is from New Delhi and works with paint, digital art and new media and revels in information technology and digital possibilities. Here are some of his titles: Tere mere beech me (between you and me), Mobile!, I am what I wear, It's the time to Disco!

He says: "My work generally addresses gender and sexuality in Indian society through the observation of urban culture - the metro. This work is a story of open source social networking and a queer night in Delhi set against an architectural archetype. It refers to today's cyber generation and the changes that are taking place in a more globally adapted Indian lifestyle." Speaking of his contribution to ‘The autoerotic man’ exhibition some months ago, Satadru Sovan Banduri said, "It's not nudity, it's beyond nudity. It's a space for ideas on fantasy, on pleasure."

Fig. 10
In NY, a show called 'Engendered' showed in various media, that gender and sexuality are not necessarily related, a person may act or be 'male', 'female' or 'neuter', distinct from his or her body structure. There, Satadru showed his work on old fantasies now current, in new social media.

‘Satadru’, meaning a hundred waves, is related to the word, ‘Sutlej’, a beloved river in India. He comes from the Yadav clan, from Krishna's family. Krishna followers have often been depicted as Krishna’s numerous wives and lovers. This is a representation of their belief that God exists totally for each believer, no matter how many, and always has time for them. Each human soul loves God and is loved in return and believes this love to be complete and exclusive. This is a gentle love for divinity, not proving or disproving any sexuality.

Fig. 11
Satadru got his degrees in fine arts from Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan and went to the US on a Fulbright scholarship. He did his Master’s degree in Digital and New Media, University of California Santa Cruz,California. He lives and works in Delhi, India.

He has had several solo international art shows, including 'SMS...Buzin Sensation' at Nitanjali Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2008; 'Digital Age' at the Taj Palace Hotel, Mumbai, in 2006; 'IT [email protected]' at Dhoomimal Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2004; Affordable An-kunst at Galerie Muller and Plate, Munich, 2004; and Zeitgenossische Kunst aus Indien at Galerie Muller and Plate, Munich, 2004. His group shows include 'Freshly Squeezed: The Young Indian Contemporaries' at Suchitra Arts, Mumbai, in 2008; 'Spatial Symphonies' at Travancore House, New Delhi, 2007; 'Flowery Fantasies' at Travancore House, New Delhi, 2007; and Art Internationalism at the Art and Design Show, The Grand, New Delhi, 2006.

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