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Shringar rasa in Aesthetics: The Consequential relationship of Art and Sex

Sexuality has been a recurrent theme in visual arts. Paintings, sculptures, ceramics and engravings involve many erotic scenes. In the classical period, both masculine and female nudity was idealized as beauty. Aesthetically, it became a belief how women or men’s bodies should look with calculated proportions.  Explicit sex scenes were omnipresent in the past in mythological themes, allegoric and idealized conceptions. Since ancient times displaying sex, nudes and pleasure in the paintings expressed the ideas of an artist, whether it is in western or in eastern parts of the world. Past reveals narrate the overt relationship between art and sex; what and why sexual emotions are often part of artworks. It is very well known that pleasure has multiple faces and art is eternal, both combined under one umbrella which evokes the feeling of sublime.

A fully clothed body has never been part of our Indian traditions whether we look into the Khajuraho group of temples or Mughal miniatures or ragmalas from Kangra to Basohli, every art from classical to folk represents the sexual notions to our world. Shringar rasa is the only emotion that excites the creativity of art and it’s all written in the sacred texts. While nudes were ubiquitous in Indian art, an element of realism was missing. Artists were banned or followed to condemnation to portray females in nudes. In 2006 modern artist, M.F. Husain’s nude portraits of Hindu deities and Bharat Mata led to death threats and the artist went to self-imposed exile. If it is about the notion of conventional portraying of the female body then,  our mythological texts and depictions of erotic scenes on the walls of temples should definitely have been banned.

Khajuraho erotic panels

From Traditional taboos to Sexual empowerment

Globally there’ve been phases when nude art was acceptable, followed by condemnation. While the Renaissance period (14th to 17th century) in European history very evidently showcased bodies but faced protest by the powerful churches, hence, focused less on erotic art and more on academia in the late 19th century. 

Bharatmata by M.F Hussain

Franciso Goya’s “The Nude Maja” (1797-1800) could be considered one of the first paintings that subverted the notion of the female body as non-sexual and idealized. The figure in her paintings represents real women. She maintained direct eye contact with the observer rather than been observed. Her self confidence transforms her into the owner of her own body and sexuality. Likewise, many Indian artists in the early 20th century also started opposing the norms of not depicting nudes in the artworks such as Amrita Shergill and Jamini Roy. From the nineteenth and twentieth century, sexuality has been a profound theme in visual arts and its prevalence was strengthened by the revolution of 1960 and the rise of feminist art. 

The increasing presence of sex in many artistic disciplines has led to the expansion of its disciplines that may not even be considered art, the boundaries between art and pornography can sometimes be unclear. In any case, the evolution of western or eastern visual arts has contributed to the liberation of sexuality from traditional taboos to sexual empowerment. Sex education and vested knowledge of art can only clear the mindset of society that beauty lies in the eyes of its beholder.

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