As teenagers growing up in a fairly sex-segregated world, and struggling to deal with our budding sexualities, I remember going to the movies with friends, and then afterwards hanging out looking at girls passing by. We would comment amongst ourselves – what we liked or didn’t like about each of the girls – seeking affirmation from each other about our tastes and desires.
One day, one boy in our group called out to a girl who didn’t meet with his approval and shouted “I want to cover the face and ram the base!” Fortunately for her, she was already out of earshot – but the rest of us were shocked. There was such a raw hatred packed in that idea – of simultaneously violating someone and obliterating her identity – that it struck me like a punch in the gut. I have never forgotten that moment, and now I understand that it was perhaps my first encounter with that place in our 14-year-old brains that lies at the very root of rape culture.
As a visual artist, I’m interested in the difference between the pornographic and the erotic.
While it would be safe to assume that erotic art has existed and been enjoyed in most cultures from time immemorial, pornography is generally spoken of in context of our modern industrial-capitalist culture.
Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that, in our times, notions of beauty, desirability and sexuality in general, and of feminine beauty in particular, are shaped not in the realm of art or religion, but in the domain of industry – in particular, the multi-billion dollar fashion, beauty and entertainment industries.
And like my 14-year-old friend, this industry has an interest in covering and uncovering different parts of people’s bodies for selective viewing, attention and treatment.
The difficulty with pornography, in the mainstream sense, is that it is a product of our relentless craving for instant gratification – which pushes us to focus on people as objects of our desire, to the exclusion of everything else they are. We ignore the questionable aspects of – and the human costs behind –porn production. Those ubiquitous, obsessive close-ups of genitalia and intercourse are the defining imagery of porn precisely because porn is based on the exclusion of context: sex as an assemblage of dismembered body parts, shorn of their relationship to life and love.
The erotic, on the other hand, pushes us in the opposite direction. The idea of eroticism, is, for me, linked not just to the body, but to everything else under the sun: The quality of light inside a darkened room, the smells of food, stories our aunts told us, the taste of sweat, the colour of water, an old song on the radio, the texture of silk… It is suggestive, inclusive, full of fantasy and rich with stories, characters and personalities.
Erotic art connects the dots between heightening of sensitivity and the arousal of desire.
This set of artworks are intended not just to celebrate the beauty of human bodies and sexual love, but also to challenge the industrialized sexuality of our times – which, in combination with our stifled cultures of silence, produces the multitudes of skewed, violent, hate-filled forms of sexual expression we live with.
I offer these images as a Call to the Imagination – For That Is Where CHANGE IS BORN.
Before we can create something, we have to imagine it.
So, can we all sit back for a while, and…
With due affection for John Lennon, who, along with many others before and after him, imagined similarly!
Orijit Sen is an Indian graphic artist, designer and co-founder of People Tree. His works include the graphic novel, River Of Stones, and he has worked with various projects such as the PAO Collective, A Place in Punjab and Mapping Mapusa Market.