A massive exhibition of erotic Indian art aims to contextualise Kama Sutra with a fresh perspective

“To present the Kama Sutra to an urban, primarily French and then a European audience, much of the stereotypes need to be broken. Far from being a text on pornography or sexology, the Kama Sutra is about a great way of urban living, of balance in life, of joy which comes through the celebration of sensuality and desire. From temples to palaces to caves, from the north to the south, from miniature paintings to frescoes to temple sculptures, the spirituality and the aesthetics of the erotic is evidenced everywhere in India,” says Alka Pande as she prepares for a massive exhibition of erotic Indian art at the Pinacothèque de Paris museum in October this year. A brainchild of Marc Restellini, France’s first private museum has created a special place for itself within a short span of time by holding some path-breaking shows. The story only goes forward with this exhibition.

A gamut of art objects — from exquisite wood carvings from chariot wheels, temple doorways from Tamil Nadu, ivory plates from Orissa, paintings from Rajasthan, and terracotta pieces from the temples in West Bengal — will come together to form “The Kama Sutra, Spirituality and Eroticism in Indian Art”, an exhibition Pande describes as a never-before exercise.

“Who has done retelling of Indian erotic art in the world like this? It is singularly focused on Kama Sutra, which is the mother of all erotic texts. And Kama Sutra is not just one book, it is a compilation of seven books written by seven sages over the years. Sage Vatsyayana put it all together in the 4th Century AD,” says the art historian and curator who has remained engaged with the subject for a long time.

Pande feels the exhibition will contextualise the seminal text and help people understand the concept of Kama (desire) in a broader way. “The value of the Kama Sutra is that it teaches us that sexuality is an intrinsic part of life. While it emphasises pleasure, it does not preach hedonism. It is easy to see how this mistake may be made by normal Western society considering a swift perusal of titles in the Congressional list: “The Complete Illustrated Kama Sutra”, “Pocket Idiot’s guide to the Kama Sutra”, “Kitchen Kama Sutra: 50 ways to seduce each other outside the bedroom” and “Kama Sutra 52: A year’s worth of best positions for passion and pleasure”.”

“The Kama Sutra, Spirituality and Eroticism in Indian Art” will feature more than 300 works collected from public museums and private art collectors in India and other countries like Musée Guimet (Paris); the Reitberg (Zurich); the Cinquantenaire Museum (Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels), the erotic art collection of Johan Mattelaer and Guy Martens’ erotic museum, the private collections of Beroze and Michel Sabatier.

“Fifteen large sculptures of some of the most sensual male and female bodies, Surasundaris from the 7th Century AD to the 14th century AD come from the collection of Arvind Singh Mewar. They are on display in his newly opened sculpture gallery in the City Palace Museum, in Udaipur,” informs Pande. Then there is Bharatnatyam dancer Laxmi Viswanathan who will curate a special dance feature using the poetry of legendary writers of India.