Challenging Notions of Identity

In No Ordinary Love, artist Salman Toor invites viewers into private worlds and upends outdated notions of power and identity.

Text and Images courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art

Recently profiled by the New Yorker and called “the art name to know” by the Financial Times, artist Salman Toor burst onto the art world with his 2021 Whitney Museum of American Art solo exhibition How Will I Know. Now his work travels to Honolulu for the exhibition Salman Toor: No Ordinary Love, on view July 14 to October 8 at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

“Toor has an important perspective to share as a queer man from South Asia who immigrated to America,” says HoMA director and CEO Halona Norton-Westbrook. “Leaning on his lived experience navigating shifting cultural environments, his scenes center underrepresented figures to tell modern stories of family life, queer desire and immigrant experience. HoMA is proud to share this unique point of view with our community to help deepen our connections with one another and the world we share.”

Boy with Cigarette (2021)
Oil on panel 
Private collection © Salman Toor, courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Photos by Farzad Owrang

Salman Toor (American, b. 1983)
The Weightlifter (2021)
Oil on canvas 
Holly and Albert Baril Collection © Salman Toor, courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Photos by Farzad Owrang

Salman Toor (American, b. 1983)

Taking inspiration from European, American and South Asian artistic traditions, Toor weaves together contemporary scenes that confuse class, culture and individuality to tell personal stories of Brown, queer characters. 

“I see my work as part of a larger project of subcultured voices who update and challenge notions of identity in Western art history,” says Toor. “My practice explores both hope and anxieties related to the queer experience from an international viewpoint.”

Toor’s paintings evoke a sense of tenderness as they deal with complex themes such as immigration, race and sexuality. Often working in a signature palette of rich emerald greens, his paintings are infused with a nocturnal note of bohemian dreaminess. The atmospheric tones offer additional layers of meaning, whether portraying comfort, isolation, celebration or uneasiness.

Salman Toor's painting "Walking Together" depicts a Brown man in a white shirt walking in a crowd.
Walking Together
Oil on panel  
Private collection, New York 
© Salman Toor
Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Photos by Farzad Owrang

Salman Toor (American, b. 1983)

In the painting Walking Together, Toor depicts a Brown man in a white shirt as a central figure. Walking in a crowd, his shoulder is embraced by a taller man, who doesn’t seem to notice the figure is simultaneously holding hands with a third person in the foreground dressed as a harlequin. The radiating lines around their intertwined hands create a tension within the scene.

Toor often depicts scenes of fleeing intimacy, offering the viewer a window into private moments of vulnerability and desire. Visitors will witness a secret encounter in Back Lawn, an intimate view of an emotion figure in Crying Boy with Candle and a young man exploring what might be his mother’s makeup in The Women

Toor has compared the act of painting with the freedom of dancing by oneself in a crowd. The title of this exhibition is inspired by the Sade song of the same name, continuing a practice he started with the show Time After Time at Aicon Gallery in New York in 2018, inspired by the Cindy Lauper chestnut and How Will I Know, taken from the Whitney Houson hit, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2020.

Salman Toor's painting "The Inheritors", shows six people in green, painted in a wavy, abstract style.
The Inheritors
Oil on canvas  
Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Fund established with exchange funds from gifts of Dr. and Mrs. Edgar F. Berman, Equitable Bank, N.A., Geoffrey Gates, Sandra O. Moose, National 
Endowment for the Arts, Lawrence Rubin, Philip M. Stern, and Alan J. Zakon 
BMA 2022.56 
© Salman Toor
Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Photos by Farzad Owrang

Salman Toor (American, b. 1983)

No Ordinary Love is part of a larger theme at HoMA centered around the idea of shifting perspectives. Over the course of the next year, the museum will present exhibitions, installations and programs that have the narrative-changing power to alter the way visitors see, think and feel, revealing personal and societal evolutions.

Salman Toor: No Ordinary Love was organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) as part of a three-museum tour that includes the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. The exhibition was curated by Asma Naeem, Ph.D., BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis director. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog that includes essays by Naeem and writer Evan Moffitt, as well as a short story by acclaimed author and T: The New York Times Style Magazine editor Hanya Yanagihara, who grew up in Honolulu.

Salman Toor: No Ordinary Love is supported by Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.