From Here to Eternity. Sunil Gupta, A Retrospective
This exhibition offers a layered view of artist Sunil Gupta’s unique transcontinental photographic vision, bringing together a comprehensive selection of works from his innovative career. From his participation in New York’s radical Gay Liberation Movement in the 1970s to his more recent campaigning in India, Gupta has inspired generations of photographers, artist-activists, and advocates for LGBTQ+ rights.
In the catalogue that accompanies the artist’s exhibition, curator and editor Mark Sealy writes: “I have been talking with Sunil Gupta for over 30 years, if not more. Every time we speak, it has been a different kind of dialogue, a more enlightened one as I increasingly understand him and his work. As we moved closer toward the final stages of this exhibition, our discussions became more of a process of collecting recollections. The ephemera of his life facilitated this process and helped us comprehend what he looks for as an artist.
“Being able to spend time with Gupta as we developed this project has been a real learning curve mainly because of his infectious sense of ease concerning turbulent pasts and intersections with pleasure. The past for most of us is an uneasy place to visit. It is the door that we are most reluctant to push open because emotionally we are never sure what might lie behind it. Curatorially, I think what is really interesting concerning the career of an artist like Gupta is the point where things began and the catalytic moments of making, the drivers that push people on in their lives that make them choose a life in and with politics. I see Gupta as saying yes to being a photographer as a radical act, yes to being an artist, and yes to being a person who recognizes that he needs to love to survive. Looking across his work it is evident that the powerful undercurrent that ties all of it together is relationships.
“[Originally from India], Gupta’s family immigrated to Canada in 1969. Canada allowed Gupta in his late teens to discover his sexuality and forge an identity. Being part of the gay liberation movement meant that there was a critique of family structures or at least the biological heteronormative family, which was an uneasy and difficult situation for his migrant family to grapple with: ‘they didn’t quite understand why I wanted to move out and have a whole other life separate from them.’ But for Gupta there was never a sense of complete separation because at the core of his family was a space of generosity and acceptance that he now recognizes as being unusual. The family had a deep understanding of what it meant to be an outsider.
“[…] For Gupta, photography started in Canada, through his connection with the gay liberation group at college. The group produced a paper for which they needed pictures and Gupta volunteered to be the photographer. He was interested in photography and it gave him a reason to take pictures and to organize his thoughts, to be present and, critically, to have an audience. Once a month he would have photographs credited and reproduced in the college homemade Gayzette. This was a part-time occupation because he was supposed to be studying business. That all changed when he arrived in New York, where he encountered a whole new world of photography possibilities; this is where Gupta’s continuous photography started. […] New York it seemed was open visually, waiting to be framed. In New York, as can be seen in his Christopher Street sequence, Gupta began to find a visual queer identity through a lens that became sharply focused on the exciting scenes unfolding on the streets as the queer world emerged into the daylight. The Christopher Street photographs are important because they ooze with desire and affirmation of a people on the move.
“[…] On the emotional front Gupta was following his heart: a relationship that had started in Montreal led him to experience queer New York and then London. After being in London for a while the Home Office security team caught up with Gupta and suggested he should leave the UK as he had now overstayed his official visa. To enable him to remain in the country he embraced photography further and enrolled on a three-year photography course at Farnham University for the Creative Arts in Surrey. Once he had completed the course, the Home Office made contact again, only to be informed by Gupta that he had enrolled on a two-year photography MA course at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London. Photography saved both Gupta and, more importantly, his relationship.”
—Mark Sealy, “Moments outside the Frame,” in Mark Sealy (ed.), From Here to Eternity: Sunil Gupta, A Retrospective, London: Autograph, 2021 (excerpt)
Curated by Mark Sealy
Co-organized by the Ryerson Image Centre and The Photographers’ Gallery (London, UK), in collaboration with Autograph (London, UK), and presented in partnership with CONTACT
Sunil Gupta (b. 1953, New Delhi, India) was educated at the Royal College of Art, London, England, and received a PhD from the University of Westminster. As a photographer, curator, writer and activist, Gupta has used photography as a critical practice to focus on issues such as family, race, migration, and the complexities and taboos of sexuality and homosexual life since the 1970s. Gupta’s recent show (with Charan Singh) Dissent and Desire was presented at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India (2018) and his project Christopher Street 1976, published in 2018 (Stanley Barker) was presented at Hales Gallery in New York (2019). More recently, his publication Sunil Gupta: From Here To Eternity won the Kraszna-Krausz Photobook Award (2021).