Society in India is a chaotic study in limitation, and in ideas of freedom and self-expression. A nation that applauds both the conservative and the outspoken, where the opposing values of preservation of culture and heritage, and those of exploration and diversity, are constantly at battle. The duality of the modern Indian mind is one that scholars and artistes have explored and argued to its very depths, and continue to do so to this day. We got talking with one such artiste, who holds a mirror to Indian society with his art, forcing us to reflect upon our biases and prejudices. Meet Danny, the man who is baring it all in his quest for the truth.
“It was a different kind of loneliness. My emotions were bare, but my body was not. So, I made them all bare. Raw body, and raw emotions- both naked.”
Born and raised in Odisha, Danny set out on his quest to document the world around him after starting a job working in Pune. Realising his love for portraits, both of himself and his friends, Danny began taking his hobby seriously, turning to the camera in his free time. “It was the vulnerability in people’s eyes, the intimacy, that drew me to photograph people,” Danny explains.
Finding himself isolated in hotel rooms while on trips for work, Danny soon began photographing himself in an attempt to pass the time. It was then that Danny began posing in the nude, taking cues from much-admired European and Canadian artists. “It felt so comforting that I got gradually addicted to the idea of the naked body,” Danny reveals.
This discovery of his appreciation for the raw, unadulterated beauty of the naked form pushed Danny to explore different mediums of expression, “I bought some canvas and acrylic. I started painting naked bodies. It became all about the practice of nude art.” Danny says. “I painted naked bodies, photographed naked bodies, and when I wrote at night, my muse was the naked form.” He adds.
India as a nation has a rich history of nudism and sexuality, reflected in our literature and architecture. A visit to any of India’s oldest temples and caves will reveal as much, with carved depictions of the human form being a common theme. “People today have become resistive to the idea of nudity, viewing it as a subject worthy of scandal and controversy. I find myself constantly inspired by the ancient artists of our nation, and of their liberal outlook on life.” Danny says.
Modern Indian society’s views on the subject of nudity are limited by years of cultural conditioning, which tend to restrict the idea of the naked form to connotations of sexuality. With an aim to combat this system of belief, and to broaden the minds of the average Indian consumer, Danny is on a mission to popularise the nude form through an artistic lens. “The naked body is the most beautiful thing this universe has ever created, and it is an artist’s job to present it to the rest of the world for what it is- a masterpiece.”
Art is a medium through which one may understand oneself. Danny’s work aims to document these real-world emotions and unspoken thoughts in a manner that might unsettle viewers, and push them to re-explore their ideas of the self. “I photograph the nuances of experiences that we all face. As a society, we never discuss our vulnerabilities and loneliness. To me, that is an indication that we have not explored ourselves to the fullest extent.” Danny reveals. “My work aims to portray those emotions that we rather stay hidden.” He adds.
“I choose my subjects by meeting them and building a relationship with them. I learn about their lives, hopes, and struggles. I don’t like to portray the sexual aspect of nudity. What I look for is honesty, intensity and aesthetic.” Danny explains. “This is what my subjects expect from me, and what I, in turn, expect from them.”
In a society that upholds the idea of slim-waisted, conventional attractiveness, more and more of our population suffers from shameful insecurities about their bodies. Danny’s work aims to address this issue through the medium of art, challenging viewers to find beauty in shapes and forms that popular media does not expose them to. “I have never photographed models who are society’s definition of fit, or beautiful. I photograph real people. Every body is beautiful, and deserves to be photographed.” Danny explains. “As a society, I don’t believe that we have ever seen ourselves naked.”He adds.
With an incredible eye for aesthetic and visual storytelling, Danny’s work has been applauded by members of the alternative arts community. Unfortunately, not everyone is as receptive to Danny’s forward-thinking, artistic approach. Danny’s Instagram page, which he uses as a medium to showcase his work, has been banned on a few occasions as per the company guidelines of prohibiting images that reflect examples of physical intimacy. “I believe It is bigger than just nudity. Because corporations Instagram earn in billions through mediums of advertisement, fashion, and commercials, nude art doesn’t bring any money into the industry. To me, the banning of nude art is just propaganda”
But where does one draw the line between explicit content and aesthetically pleasing erotica? With the internet and social media being vehicles of self-expression and free speech in modern society, the censoring of art that depicts the human form in its natural glory comes as a setback. “Exhibitions in India are limited to street art, fashion and the likes. Finding a space within which art is represented as art, and not judged for being too much or too little of the thought or movement it represents, is a real challenge in our country.” Danny reveals.
Facing backlash from family, friends, colleagues, and relatives to a lesser or greater degree, Danny emphasizes the importance of being unashamed and believing in the message of your art. “I wish more people understood that nude artists are not perverts. Exposing your body in front of someone doesn’t make you an indecent person. I expect people to know that the naked body is not a shameful thing.” Danny elaborates.
In a country that is on the brink of a cultural revolution, where the old ways and the new are constantly fighting for their moment in the limelight, Danny’s work heralds a time of change, and of a society that is open to and accepting of thoughts and ideas that are unfamiliar in nature. Art is war, and Danny finds himself an unlikely soldier caught in the crosshairs, dreaming of a brighter world, and broader horizons. “That’s what art is. It has no boundaries. It comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.” Danny muses.
All the images used in this article are courtesy of Danny.