By Juneyna Kabir
Public displays of intimacy, gender and sexuality are not novel scenes to the liberal sensibilities of the people of Brighton and Hove.
Reimagine at the University of Brighton Gallery in Grand Parade, however, is a novel take on these familiar expressions when set against the contrasting cultural environments of Brighton and Bombay.
Indian photographer and documentary maker Bharat Sikka and UK-based Olivia Arthur collaborated to provide a spectacular exhibition for the Brighton Biennial, highlighting the importance of self-expression irrespective of societal norm.
Their subjects are from the LGBT+ community in India and England.
It is not unsurprising that the photographers chose to exhibit their foreign pieces given the nature of the work.
Photos on display are bathed in intrigue, candour and honesty on part of both photographer and model in a way that is often born out of interactions defined by distance and professionalism.
But this does not stop the exhibition from brimming with signs of deep emotion – of affection and of rebellion.
Couples By The Western Freeway is a beautiful example of the way Arthur was able to aptly capture both sentiments, as it reveals the private relations between three couples in very public territory – an act that Indian society would likely condemn.
Regardless of freedom of expression, Sikka’s Brighton-shot Sutherland would not be an everyday sight in the city.
Showing a woman sitting on steps outside a home surrounded by dilapidated iron gates paints a picture of an individual secure in their own skin.
“By depicting me, a gender non-conforming queer person, openly and unapologetically naked in a public space, the picture reflects my ideals around naturalising bodies and nudity, taking up space, and rejecting the construction of my body as shameful or to be hidden,” reads a quote from the model.
Photoworks director and curator for Reimagine, Celia Davies said she chose the LGBT+ community as the subject of the exhibition because the breadth of its diversity in terms of sexuality, gender and class.
The idea came to her on a trip to Johannesburg at the end of the last Biennial in 2014.
“I saw people walking around in a very conscious manner. In a recently democratic society like South Africa, expression of identity and self was evidently very important,” she said.
The exhibition comes as India’s commemorates its 70th year of independence from British rule, an initiative by the British Council in India.
Differences and similarities between the two communities are scrutinised through a lens, in an attempt to prove the universality of love for oneself and another.
Reimagine is at the University of Brighton galleries at Grand Parade, until October 30.