Last month, LGBTQ collective Gaysi made news by publishing India’s first graphic anthology documenting queer stories, starting some important conversations about sexuality through popular culture.
At over 100 odd pages, this graphic anthology is both rich and diverse. With a plethora of artists and writers from across the art/advertising/design spectrum contributing their stories and artwork, the anthology attempts to bring to the fore experiences and voices that have been previously ignored or suppressed in India’s mainstream visual culture. The stories both serve to form an overarching narrative of transcending traditional societal confines of gender and sexuality, as well as in documenting individual queer experiences—each more diverse than the next.
As soon as you browse through its pages, you realize that the anthology has been drawn and written by people who not only want to start a conversation about LGBTQ rights and issues, but show a largely homophobic nation that yes, queer people are human too, and have real feelings, emotions and struggles.
Visually, it is absolutely breathtaking. There is an intermingling of styles, forms, and colours, which serve to highlight the multiplicity and vibrance of the diverse sexualities and kinds of love depicted. The mediums of art vary—there is a mix of images in colour, pencils and in ink. But what renders them even more poignant are the narratives they create.
The anthology is at its finest when it is telling simple, human stories. “Laxmi”, the story of a transgender who works as a phone operator and her brushes with discrimination; “Let’s Dance” is an insightful look into consent and the politics of coming out in queer relationships;“Who Are The Heroes” upturns traditional heteronormative understandings of superheroes and imagines a lesbian superhero couple beating up metaphorical patriarchal baddies and “Café Mondekar” questions the thin line that exists between ‘straight’ and ‘gay’, and how sexualities are ultimately fluid and endless .
Apart from these, the art pieces from Carol Rosetti, Amirkhan Pathan (Women Lust) and Prabha Mallya (Love In The Time of Mechanical Reproduction) stand out as near masterpieces – ones that wouldn’t be out of place in an art gallery. Maitri Dore’s “A Timeline of Events in LGBT History” is a searing graphic recreation of the historical events that led to the suppression of alternate sexualities and the development of the LGBTQ rights movement.
As a queer individual living in India, so many of these stories felt like visual reflections of my own experiences—articulating with brutal clarity the struggles with personal identity and societal perception that I myself have experienced. My only complaint with it is the that I wanted more narrative strength. At times, the beauty of the visuals eclipses the narration or the characters. However powerful the visual illustrations are, they sometimes distract you from the actual stories.
But all said and done, the messages within its pages are universal—about breaking binaries, questioning stereotypes and moving towards acceptance and equality—something that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities can identify with.