Being queer was key to photographer T K Sandeep’s growth as an artist

There’s a slow, brooding quality to T K Sandeep’s photographs, videos and his life story too. It was a slow and long journey to where he is today, from a little schoolboy in Kochi who struggled with English to a Malayalam-medium school student in Thalassery where “boys used to call me karuppandi (black Tamilian).”

Stunningly beautiful, with burnished skin, Sandeep was friendless and bruised by the insults, and so “turned my concentration to books and studies. I got my first library membership during my fifth standard.”

Sandeep was even more troubled by what he thought of as a dark secret, his desire for men, particularly older men. “I knew I was different and I thought it is really sick to have ‘abnormal’ feelings for men who are really old and I thought I am the only one suffering from this and I thought it is a secret that I am going to carry to my grave.”

He turned even further inward, “keeping to myself as a way of avoiding people. I was scared if someone got close to me, they would find my secret.”

While desultorily doing a BBA like any Malayali boy doomed to the mainstream, Sandeep went to visit his school friend who was now studying in the Trivandrum Fine Arts College. His life changed: “I used to go and stay in his hostel. That is the first time I came to know there is a course for arts, and photography can be art; my tastes for music and movie changed.”

The internet allowed him to explore relations with older men who were artists, and his evolution as a photographer and videographer grew from all he learnt from them and from the pain and shards of love and loss.

Many of Sandeep’s videos and photographs tell these stories in a fragmented and searing bildungsroman made of bits and pieces. These bits and pieces have made him, and he tells these stories both in visual and textual form with a barely audible yet plangent sound, like the depths of the sea to which he is relentlessly drawn. “Precisely all the men I have been in love with are artists and I was doing everything to impress them. I couldn’t paint; all I was able to do was to take photos,” he says disarmingly.

Painter and cultural icon Suresh Jayaram of 1, Shanthi Road in Bangalore is whom he credits with his transformation as an artist. “My transition to an artist and a professional photographer is thanks to Suresh. Everything started after that.”

Sexuality is a key part of Sandeep’s sensibility. “What would my life have been if I wasn’t queer? I certainly would not be an artist!”But it also taught him empathy.

One of his recent projects was a calendar in which he got hijras and transgenders in Kerala to tell him their dream professions, and then he photographed them dressed as those professionals.

The work was showcased as part of Gender Bender 2019 in Bangalore; then it travelled to Pune and Delhi for the India Artfair. “Owning up the identity of a Queer takes time, courage and inspiration,” Sandeep says, but also “sometimes I see myself in other people and I think ‘Oh it’s a similar story.’”

His own work consists of moody video poems and photo poems. “I take a lot of selfies. I also make videos. I have been making videos with the love letters I wrote to my lover.”

Slowly but steadily Sandeep is gaining a foothold in the contemporary Indian art scene.This year, against all odds, he received the INLAKS fine art award instituted by InlaksShivdasani Foundation for 2020. Another email informed him that he is the Recipient of the Robert Bosch grant’Crossing Borders’ for 2021 and he will be continuing his work in Europe with a project entitled ‘We Walk Together under the Rainbow.’

Sandeep TK’s video poem And You Told Me will be screened at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival this weekend.


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