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Abir Karmakar

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1977, Siliguri, West Bengal, India
Lives and works in Baroda, India

Abir Karmakar is mostly known for his nude self-portraits, and his medium is  primarily oil on canvas. His most significant trademark is a tightly framed, candid snapshot of full body portraits of himself in dimly lit, claustrophobic, indoor settings. 



Master of Fine Arts (Painting), Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda


Bachelor of Visual Art (Painting), Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata


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The nude is rendered with a new sexuality

Central to artist Abir Karmakar’s oeuvre is the human body. Often unclothed and reminiscent of the (now) canonical creations of the old masters,  Karmakar’s nudes rely on the eloquent medium of oil paints to render them alive, flesh-like, breathing or in other words ‘realistic’.  Karmakar is candid in admitting his inclination towards realism, “I was always fascinated with the depiction of ‘realism’ on canvas and its various subversive possibilities” , he says, “even as a student”. Aptly therefore his works draw not only from the academic traditions of mannerist portraiture but also from the overt sexuality of tabloid pin-up like imagery ubiquitous in popular culture.

Abir Karmakar, Within the Walls, 2008, triptych, oil on canvas, 183 x 366 cm, 72 x 144 inches

The works create a dialogue of gazes between the subject and the view

For Karmakar, the body is a conceptual structure and his artistic queries rely often on its presence and absence as a mode of exploration. In much of his work the stark reality of the nude body and its frank engagement with a perceived viewer establishes a dialectic relationship between the watched and the watcher, highlighting the presence of both. Whether sitting, lying, crouched lasciviously or bending out his hip awkwardly, the subjects gaze is always on us, urging us to look and looking at us looking at him.

Frequently, the artist is himself both the watcher and the watched, even within the canvas. In Karmakar’s works the artist’s body is both active and passive. The recurrent images of clothed and unclothed bodies within a given frame are clearly both his, observing and being observed simultaneously.

Abir Karmakar, In the Old Fashioned Way, 2007, oil on canvas.

Abir Karmakar, Within the Walls II, 2008, oil on canvas.

Recent works play the duality of the absence and presence of bodies

In his latest works, Karmakar plays with the stark absence of human form. Moving away from figures, which had so far defined his oeuvre, here he concentrates only on the depiction of hotel rooms, impersonal transitory spaces, clearly inhabited by people in the recent past but currently empty. His new works continue with the painstakingly detailed realism of his self-portraitures and also maintains the candid immediacy of the snapshot characteristic of his practice. It is sometimes the languid photographic framing of the works, suggestive of a casual photographer listlessly clicking images to pass his time alone in a hotel room, sometimes the rumpled sheets, the upturned covers, the clear patch of undulation on pillows slept on, that brings the human subject back into focus despite their absence. It is in fact the absence, indelicately underlined by the traces left behind by the recent occupants of the rooms, which brings the human body firmly in focus establishing the room as an extension of, an unrelenting reminder of the body we don’t see.

Abir Karmakar, Pornographic Interiors, 2010, oil on canvas.

Abir Karmakar, Scent III, 2011, oil on canvas.

Explores intimate fantasies in spaces that are public and claustrophobic

Karmakar’s interest in hotel rooms is in keeping with his longstanding artistic interest in the depiction of closeted, often claustrophobic, indoor spaces lit dimly in a wash of warm incandescent light. In Karmakar’s canvases there is no hint of a world outside. People are bound, tightly, in rooms of transient intimacy, sometimes bathrooms, sometimes bedrooms, with no view and not even a sliver of sunlight streaming in. The intimacy and the closeted nature of the spaces also render them ideal as spaces to play out the theatricality of fantasies, the prime pursuit of Karmakar’s subjects. Most fantasies played out in Karmakar’s works are voluptuously choreographed attempts at breaking out of gender constraints as oppressively cramped as the settings in which they are played out.

In the series I love Therefore I am the fantasy takes the form of making love to oneself, in others, such as The Old Fashioned Way it takes the form of exhibiting one’s own body and often dressing in drags, and in Porno Paintings, it hints of ménage-e-trois’ and illicit sex. In each series, his paintings serve as conduits, transporting the private, somewhat guilty spaces of clandestine pleasures, stark in the middle of public spaces almost always in formats too large to be ignored and thus replete with discomfort and embarrassment.

Abir Karmakar, In the Old Fashioned Way, 2007.

Abir Karmakar, I Love Therefore I Am, 2006.

Aesthetics involve exploring the body on canvas

Karmakar describes his interest as primarily painterly and insists he is likely to continue with the medium of oil on canvas even as his contemporaries turn to new media and other seemingly technologically rich mediums. He is also self-consciously content to explore the extents of the human body, the sexual self and the vast plains of human psychology as a means of exploring the world around him rather than moving outwards, away from the human subject to abstract urban imagery, to capture the contemporary moment, like a number of his contemporaries. Through most of his works Karmakar establishes himself within middle class spaces and his subjecthood is firmly class-bound.

Karmakar describes his work process as slow and time consuming ”I work slowly, taking a lot of time to focus on and develop my concept, the layers of ”sexual confusion ” that I want to explore, all of it takes a lot of time”, he says.

Abir Karmakar, Shadows of Distressing Dreams, 2012, still from a video from single channel projection, duration 90 minutes.