On September 19, the National Gallery of Modern Art hosted the opening of Prabuddha Dasgupta: A Journey, a retrospective on the work of a man regarded as one of India’s finest photographers in the past two decades. A giant crowd of artists and aficionados filled the auditorium well beyond its capacity, then poured into the exhibition space, still swelling in numbers, in a state of excitement that hadn’t been witnessed at the NGMA since Anish Kapoor’s solo exhibition five years earlier.
Suddenly, the cacophony was punctured by the screech of hundreds of sasta Chinese whistles. A group of students from the Delhi College of Art, accompanied by the artist Inder Salim, sought the attention of the crowd to voice concerns about the present cultural administration in the country.
For much of the audience, it may have seemed an unlikely place to make a statement about freedom of expression. Prabuddha Dasgupta rose into the limelight as a photographer on commercial assignments; after his death in 2012, William Dalrymple credited him with having “invented glamour” for the India of the 1990s. Yet challenges to the diffusion of art and the erotic image were woven through his life and his work.