Dipali Gupta (India) was shortlisted for her work Lovers and a Lantern, fusing abstract vibrator drawings with historical erotica of the Japanese Shunga. Traditionally, Shunga depicted heterosexual relationships, eroticising and normalising the act of sex. Through her work, Gupta explores and re-interprets these aspects of early Eastern pornography as feminine assemblages of body and machine.
Can you elaborate on the reasoning behind the lack of depiction of the female body in ‘Lovers and a Lantern’?
Lovers and a Lantern takes inspiration from the ancient art of the Shunga, a form of Japanese erotic art which had varied purposes ranging from pornography to talismans and wedding presents. I create my paintings by fusing abstract vibrator drawings with historical erotica. The black ink marks in this painting are created with an assemblage of the artist’s body and electro mechanical devices associated with sex – infamously known as sex toys. These representations of the body in its disintegrated form blurs the heteronormativity of the Shunga thus allowing space for a broader re-interpretation.
The physical body in this work does not have its usual form or structure. This challenges the notions of the male gaze due to the absence of the usual sexual signifiers. It deconstructs ideas of eroticism, objectification and sensuality. It is also a commentary on the contemporary body which is now perceived as a cyborg body – an assemblage of human and machine. Today, the body is an extension of wearable technology that enhances desires and pleasures and is open to modifications. With this work I was curious to discover what would be a re-interpretation of a historical image from a feminine / cyborg point of view. How can one reterritorialize the place of women in acts of sex, desire and pleasure.
What significance do your materials have to your artwork?
I often experiment with unfamiliar tools and mediums. For me the materiality of sex toys is much more than sexual pleasures. It is a symbol of female sexual liberation. The sex toy was historically invented to cure hysteria. By using it as a drawing device in tandem with my body, it becomes an assemblage, a possible line of flight breaking societal norms and reclaiming space for female desires. In this work, the black ink machinic vibrator marks are created with the help of domestic tools (kitchen scrubbers, brushes and sponge cleaners). This element of domesticity in the artistic process strengthens the narrative of the work, bringing attention to the invisible labour in women’s work.