Artists get India talking about sex

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“The cue ball should always be in between the cue and the pink ball. The same kind of protection you need between you and your partner.”

Safe sex art by artist duo Thukral and Tagra: a billiard game. The table is covered with a flower pattern - and the cue ball symbolises a condom.

By Aletta Andre

At the duo’s exhibition Put it on, again! it’s hard to say if the group of visiting students are interested in the symbolism. But they certainly have fun playing the game.

Superman
Most of the work in the exhibition is less subtle. The prizes for the game winners, for example, include a pair of flip-flops featuring a picture of a condom, while one painting shows Superman surrounded by women in lingerie.

The most important goal, says Sumir Tagra, is to get people talking. “The government’s effort to promote safe sex through campaigns is all very indirect. We think it should be more interactive. It’s usually too removed from reality. People learn about HIV, but no one talks about the act that leads to it.”

Reality
Students in particular were invited to the exhibition at Gallery Nature Morte in New Delhi. Anukar (19) says he knows “everything about sex”. He gained his wisdom at school, but not from the teachers.

“I know from talking with my friends, and from the internet. The teachers just tell us what HIV means and that we should wait until marriage. But this is not the reality. All my friends have had sex already.”

Wedding night
For Netu (22), who is accompanying a group of children from different schools, waiting until marriage was the reality. And before her wedding night two years ago, she says, she knew nothing about sex.

“It was not discussed at school, or amongst my friends or even my sisters and cousins. And we had no internet when I was in school. I wish I had known certain things earlier, but it’s OK now.”

Superman
Netu sounds confident and comfortable discussing the topic. The younger girls in the group, all around 17 years old, are more hesitant to speak out, but pay close attention when Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra tell the group about their art work.

They use Superman to represent the ideal man and he’s wearing a latex suit for protection. He’s surrounded by lots of women to point out that people do have multiple partners. And the women’s different skin colours show the issue is universal.

Bollywood
Another painting is an image taken from an ancient Hindu temple that has sculptures of people in all kinds of sexual positions. The painting is half covered with a sheet. “Sex is there in Indian culture, but people don’t talk about it,” Tagra explains.

In a similar way, the duo has designed a wall paper with repeating figures of male and female limbs covered by two flowers – “just like in old Bollywood movies.”

Encouraging
Anukar is impressed. “All my friends use condoms. But we are a bit hesitant to go to the shop for them. You never know what the shop keeper thinks about you, because condoms are for sex and we are not married. But seeing the image of the condom here is encouraging. It’s good to see that art can be used for a message.”

Photo: Jiten Thukral at the 'Put it on, again!' exhibition, Nature Morte, New Delhi (Aletta Andre)

Illustration: 'Science, Mystery and Magic II (superman)' by Thukral & Tagra (Nature Morte, New Delhi)