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In a predominantly dark photograph, a young man raises his arms as if to fight off an approaching horror. His fingers are fanned out, his wrists handcuffed, and his torso bare. This could be an image of hostility — except that the man's look, even in the darkness, hints at defiance. "He is a submissive, somebody who has surrendered to his partner and will obey every order. Surrendering to another power is a powerful act in itself, as Sufi saints and meditation practitioners have always said," says Jaya Sharma, a spokesperson of the Kinky Collective, organisers of a photography exhibition, titled "Bound to be Free", of which this image is a part. The exhibition in Delhi ended on Sunday and is now set to travel to Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai.
The Kinky Collective follow intense erotic practices termed as BDSM or Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism. These include role-playing, and acts that involve either power or pain as a means of pleasure. "We wanted to have the exhibition so that as members of the BDSM community we could represent our desires and who we are," says Sharma.
As a means of stepping out of the closet, the exhibition is a milestone. But, the 40 photographs on display — taken by members of the community, besides two professional photographers — have mixed aesthetic value. There are images with BDSM stereotypes such as stilletos, blindfolds, whips and bodies captured by amateur lensmen.
The photos, however, underline the community's core belief in consent. "In BDSM, consent is proactively sought and offered, and can be withdrawn unconditionally and instantly with the use of a single word or gesture," says Sharma, "In contrast to the construction of BDSM as anti-women and even misogynist, it is important to know that BDSM enables space for women Dominants to be completely in control, and for submissive men to be vulnerable. It is also important to challenge the typical imagination of male dominant and a woman submissive."