June 29, 2020
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Erotic Origins

Prabuddha relives his book, "Women".

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Erotic Origins
As far back as I can remember I've been surrounded by images of women. My father was a sculptor, who along with a few others started the modernist movement in Indian sculpture. My early years were spent amidst clay, plaster and bronze, moulded into voluptuous torsos, and writhing limbs. At the National Gallery of Modern Art where my father was the director, I spent a lot of time in the air-conditioned rooms if only to escape the terrifying Delhi summers. My favourite was the Amrita Sher-Gil room—women, dark skinned, with haunting eyes and upturned breasts. Their melancholic faces, suggestive of suppressed desires and passive eroticism. So it was only natural that when a camera found its way into my hands some 15 years ago, I would point its gaze at women.

My earliest experiments with nudes were disastrous, resembling illustrations for anatomy lessons. I knew then that the nude was the most challenging of all subjects, combining the requisites of portraiture, landscape and still life.

Some pictures in this book go back at least 10 years when the idea of putting together a collection germinated. Three years ago when Penguin commissioned this book, I had no idea where it would lead. The nude as painting or sculpture was okay, it had precedent in centuries of erotic Indian art, but the nude as photograph? It was unexplored territory with implications that were too complex in the confused post-colonial moral climate. If many of the nudes in this book are unrecognisable, it has not always been an artistic decision. Husain could paint Madhuri Dixit nude on horseback but to photograph her like that would be another thing altogether. The editing process of the book was unique too, with the women in it playing an active role and having the last word on whether an image was to be allowed or not. There were moments of heartbreak when a favourite image was turned down. And extreme elation when another got the go ahead.

The fact that the book is a reality is a triumph for all those committed to it, and an acknowledgement of the spirit of the women who are in it.

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