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Dying Breaths: Bhupen Khakhar, Queerness, and Late Style


Bhupen Khakhar’s legacy lives on as one of the most radical Indian painters of his generation. Working in Baroda and gaining recognition throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Khakhar was a pioneering voice in queer aesthetics in context of South Asian modernism. This paper examines the last phase of his career before his death in 2003, in which the artist traded out images of homoerotic jouissance for pictures depicting gore, disease, and the macabre. I argue that death’s intimate connection with queer identity helps provide an ontological bridge between his earlier work and his ‘late style.’

I first give an overview of the stakes of inserting a queer visual lexicon in the modern moment, comparing India’s experience of modernity to the canonical moment in nineteenth century France for corollaries. before giving a broad overview of the artist’s biography, as well as the scholarship that has already been conducted on him. I then discuss an early monograph that was published by friend and fellow artist, Timothy Hyman, to establish the limiting way in which his sexuality is often discussed as a bounded ‘period’ in his life’s work. I finally propose an alternative mode of accessing his ‘late style’ by queerness’s links to mortality, in an attempt to open up the discourse on Khakhar into more flexible categories.

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