Charting India's sexual revolution

Aug 12, 2015, 08:40 IST | Suprita Mitter

Artist Fabien Charau’s latest exhibition, Thousand Kisses Deep, is inspired by the soft, sexual revolution taking place in India. The show presents installations, and images of couples showing off their love on social media

At a time when bans seem to be an ongoing phenomena, with the increasing clampdown on personal freedom, Mumbai-based French artist Fabien Charau’s exhibition comes as a breath of fresh air. Inspired by his many visits to Mumbai’s Bandstand and Reclamation areas, his latest exhibition, titled Thousand Kisses Deep, looks at how these spaces are dotted with couples everywhere. “These areas have become hangout spots for couples from all strata of society.

Fabien Charau
Fabien Charau poses with his installation, titled Being Seen Trying, at Chatterjee & Lal Gallery, Colaba. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Everyone from the age of 15 wants to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend; it’s beautiful. On social media, more people are admitting to be in a relationship by posting photos as couples, online. A soft sexual revolution is taking place in India,” he suggests, amidst last-minute touches to his artworks prior to D-Day.

He explains how he procured the final images. “These were created from photographs that couples had posted on social media, displaying affection openly. The idea was to get between the pixels of these pictures. An algorithm has been created by me to reveal more information from the picture. It takes about four to five hours for one to be created. I had no control over the output. I felt like it was a chemistry experiment being conducted with digital images,” he shares.

Mobile phone art
The exhibition will also feature a mobile phone installation, titled Send Some Candids, which highlights the aggression that women face on Indian streets on a daily basis. “Men on Mumbai’s streets were shooting women with their mobile phones. It happened to a friend of mine. The guys were five metres away when he photographed her. I want to speak about this kind of aggression against women. This is visible through the gaze of men also, how men look at women; speak about them — the whole gamut of misbehaviour seen on the streets,” he says, adding, “These photos are called candid photography. There were many such photos on porn websites but those didn’t interest me. I found online forums, mainly for young Indian men, where they post about what’s going on in their lives; there is a section, typically on geeky things like gadgets and a large section is pornography. There were long threads with these voyeuristic photographs. Somebody would put up one photo and people would comment. It gave me an insight into their mind and who they were. I spent four months and collected about 10,000 photos.”

Online obsession
“I have a very feminist point of view,” he confesses. “It is an important project as I started thinking about digital images here. Today, when a photo is uploaded on the internet, it gets saved in different servers and they are there forever, you can’t really take them off. I wanted to find a way to make those photos disappear. My idea was to use the mobile phones that these men were using. These old phones are not smart phones. I made a slideshow of 100 photos, which lasts for five minutes; I played it on the screen of one mobile phone, and recorded it on the other mobile phone. I recorded it on loop, 18 times,” he explains, while sharing the technalities.

Connect the two
The two projects at the exhibition are connected to each other. “After Send Some Candids, people asked me why does this aggression happen and how to change it. We don’t have much interaction between the sexes, I realised. Most men don’t know what a woman is made of and what their wants could be. Access to sex and intimacy doesn’t exist. When you start having a girlfriend at 15, you will start looking at women differently. When you love someone, you learn to respect the person. Such a guy won’t start filming women on the street after five years. Hence, it was very important for me to
display the two projects together,” he confesses.

From: August 14 to September 26 (closed on Sundays and Mondays)
Time: 11 am to 7 pm
At: Chatterjee & Lal, 1/18 Kamal Mansion, first floor, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba.

Online Darshan

The exhibition will display another video installation, Being Seen Trying, which looks at devotees using online darshan as a medium to pray. This project uses material found from the Internet consisting of online darshan recordings and their processing through online face detection software. “I realised that people could do a darshan from the computer. There is an energy that is passed through the devotee and deity through the Internet. I also realised that the equipment used is the same as one used for surveillance.”

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