My review of In Dialogue: Amrita Sher-Gil and Lionel Wendt is up at Mumbai Boss.
We can debate how realistic these artists’ visions were and the potentially uncomfortable politics embedded in the work of two people rooted in privilege who moulded their subjects to embody a certain worldview, but that would be missing the most powerful aspect of Sher-Gil and Wendt’s art: their determination to find beauty in themselves and the world around them.
It’s in the fragments of Sher-Gil’s self-portraits that the difference between Wendt’s and her gaze becomes evident. Both used their art to work out issues of identity. Wendt’s homosexuality was an open secret in his circle and this is evident in his photographs. He clothed his subjects with a distinct sexuality, highlighting their desirability and his gaze placed his models in a limbo between being a human subject and a sexual object. Sher-Gil’s gaze, on the other hand, was more inward as she tried to establish an empathetic connection between the viewer and those whose portraits she was painting. Had In Dialogue included Sher-Gil’s nudes — of herself and other women — there could have been a fascinating comparison of how sexuality and the human body was depicted by these two artists. Unfortunately, the selection in In Dialogue doesn’t allow for that conversation. It does, however, hint at it with a sketch and self-portrait that Sher-Gil made of herself.