How Will I Know
In his first solo museum exhibition, on view at the Whitney, Salman Toor depicts the intimate and imagined lives of queer diasporic South Asian men engaging in pleasure or pleasure-seeking as well moments of passivity and alienation. A figure in the same listless pose—skinny, unibrowed, arms limply at the sides—drifts between canvases: before a hyper-contemporary still life in Man with Face Creams and Phone Plug (2019) and before a too-common scene for Brown men in Two Men with Vans, Tie and Bottle (2019), which depicts a pair of travelers with their possessions spread before immigration and customs officials. Figures simultaneously stiff and rubbery, rendered in sketch-like parallel and rounded strokes, are gently haloed, icon-like, by an internal light—or else the glare of a phone screen.
Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Toor was trained in Western academic painting, studiously copying the works of Caravaggio, Rubens, and Watteau, and studied modern South Asian painters as well, such as Colin David, Bhupen Khakhar, and Amrita Sher-Gil. “It is to enter Brown bodies into the language of the humanities, symbolized by the European nude,” Toor says of the intent behind his paintings, “but I also enjoy being insolent within that—for instance painting Brown bodies that are skinny or hairy in these privileged spaces.” In that vein of subversion, Parts and Things (2019) triggers an immediate wave of visceral horror: limbs, heads, genitalia, along with a pink feather boa, a staple of drag and cabaret, are piled uncaringly within a closet, that symbol of queer repression, lit by an Absinthean green glow both seductive and poisonous.
Salman Toor, Bedroom Boy, 2019. Oil on panel, 12 x 16 in. Image courtesy of the artist.