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IN FOCUS: SUNIL GUPTA | 'PRETENDED' FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

May 21, 2020

Sunil Gupta (b. 1953 New Delhi, India) moved to Montreal, Canada as a teenager in the late 1960s, before moving to New York City in 1976, enrolling on a photography course at the New School. After moving to London, UK in 1977 he studied at the Royal College of Art (1981–83) and has remained engaged with photography as a critical practice - this year receiving his PhD from the University of Westminster, with a thesis titled “Queer Migrations.” Gupta lives and works in London, UK.

Over a career spanning more than four decades, Gupta has maintained a visionary approach to photography, producing a rich body of work that has pioneered a unique social and political commentary. The artist’s diasporic experience of multiple cultures informs a practice dedicated to complex themes of race, migration and queer identity - his own lived experience a point of departure for photographic projects, born from a desire to see himself and others like him represented in art history. Across a career predominantly focused on photography - also incorporating film, writing, and curation - Gupta has remained dedicated to advocating the visibility of queer identity, cultivating a body of work which is simultaneously political and deeply personal. 

 

'Pretended' Family Relationships (1988) began as a series of colour photographs presented alongside poetry by Gupta’s then partner Stephen Dodd. Initially the works explored the ambivalence surrounding interracial gay male relationships in London. However, the project changed direction when Thatcher’s government introduced ‘Clause 28,’ which was enacted on 26th May 1988, stating that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” Quoting this phrase in the title of the series, Gupta extended the project to include lesbian relationships as well as juxtaposing black and white images of demonstrations against the clause, highlighting political action at the time. 

Gupta on Clause 28: 

“It had a far reaching effect as productions across many art forms depended upon venues and funding from local authorities. It also mobilised a vigorous response from the gay and lesbian community as it brought men and women together.”

 

Clause 28 was only repealed throughout the United Kingdom in 2003. 

 

Gupta recalls that at the time of making, in 1988, the series was met with a cold reception in the UK, instead receiving acclaim in the USA and Australia. Interest in the ‘Pretended’ Family Relationships series took him overseas, to a seminal panel discussion at Society for Photographic Education in Houston, TX in 1988. Here he met with people working on similar issues, including Douglas Crimp, Deborah Bright, Doug Ischar, Kaucyila Brooke and Hinda Schuman, who he maintained ongoing long-distance discussions with.

 


 

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