Pakistani artist Salman Toor’s intimate portrayals of comfort relay insightful depictions of marginalized people in safe settings, free to be themselves without scrutiny.
The 39-year-old painter has received sweeping recognition for his distinct style and fictionalization of queer love in his work. Based in New York, he weaves together Pakistani and NYC culture to create imaginary visions of what queer life could be in a more tolerable society.
Having grown up in Lahore, Pakistan—and within a culture of erasure for the LGBTQ+ community—Toor’s work follows his journey as a queer person of colour.
Intimacy and care are themes present throughout Toor’s work, as are dignity and perceptions of privilege. The alternative world Toor creates dignifies queer brown men with privileged lifestyles to cement sentiments of affection and safety.
The cinematic effect of Toor’s work immerses viewers into his world. Music Room is a fantastic example of this in practice: the audience is invited into a scene that stretches across a room from front to back and side to side.
Across the canvas, there’s interactions of pleasure in various form, be it derived from music, sex, romantic interaction, or simple human connection. The colour palette is simultaneously both warm and cool toned in a manner that is complimentary rather than distracting.
Toor’s early career as an artist was laced with a rejection of modern art, his fascination instead being with Renaissance Art and classical Indian paintings. In 2012, he began experimenting with the style he is now known for: cartoon-like interpretationsof his friends from the perspective of an outsider. This artistic storytelling is renewed by Toor as he forefronts queer brown men as his subjects of choice.
Toor has described his work as a “pile of laundry filled with things from different parts of [his] imagination […] summing up an exhaustive heap of greed and lust.”
Car Boys shows a couple being scrutinized by Pakistani police, with three policemen lurking outside a vehicle and shining their flashlight into the faces of the men inside. The trunk is popped open, signalling the interrogation and invasion of privacy occurring in the painting.
This piece evokes the dangers of queer existence in Pakistan: homosexuality is a punishable offence in the country and though it’s not strictly regulated, behaviour implying homosexual interactions is dangerous. Despite living in an society where his existence—and that of the rest of the queer community in Pakistan—is limited, Toor came out to his parents at 15 years old.
Toor’s femininity in his youth rendered him an ‘other’ as he attended school, though adoration and respect replaced teasing and bullying when he earned world distinction for his artistic talent. Art was simultaneously his power and haven.
Toor’s resilience is poured into his work where he unapologetically explores intersectionality, having been exhibited in the Whitney Museum, Aicon Gallery, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
He is surely an artist to watch.
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