MSU Students Bring Paintings To Life, Literally

Pritish Bali and Rahi de Roy, students of MS University, Baroda bring controversial artist Egon Schiele’s paintings to life with their self-funded project.

A WhatsApp conversation about the works of Egon Schiele, the controversial Austrian artist of the 1900s, grew into a project through which these students of Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, attempt to reinterpret his works by painting onto a model and setting up the environment in real time.

The project, an intersection of several mediums—painting, photography, and performance, can be read as a powerful engagement with ideas of gender, and sexual identity.


“As we progressed with the shoot, the focus moved away from mere replication of the paintings, to exploring the processes that transform an individual. Despite recurring erotic themes, the gender, along binary lines, remains ambiguous. This androgyny appealed to us.”

The lanky limbs and “feminine” postures of the figures in Schiele’s self-portraits deviate from mainstream hyper-masculine imagery. This gender-fluid figuration was one of the main points of interest for us in our project.

The expressions, though defiant, also expose a raw vulnerability. The treatment of the skin is so sensitive, the colours and brush technique make it appear almost as if his skin is turned inside out. This vulnerability, this ambiguity and the air of rebellion all seem to evoke adolescence, the painful details of a changing body.

“In the violence and despair of the paintings, we see the violence of adolescence, when rigid gender roles are imposed upon the individual.”

In their project, the ‘self portrait’ has again been superimposed onto another individual. The photographs may themselves be seen as ‘self portraits’ of Pritish Bali who has chosen Egon Schiele’s work as a mode to express himself, to play a particular character. It allows him to express his sexuality outside of the available mainstream tropes.

It started off with the idea that Pritish would ‘become’ the work as he identified deeply with the figuration and concept. It was around this basic structure that the rest of the project developed. The students discussed that there can be different ways of appreciating a work of art. Some may like to read and write about it, look at it, copy it and so on. Pritish’s ‘inhabiting’ the world of Egon Schiele’s self-portraits may, at some level, be seen as taking this ‘appreciation’ further.

The team did not manipulate the images digitally or use any kind of post-production process as the project was all about capturing the transformation in the moment. “Our project is focused, not just to create a ‘final image’ that looks like the referenced work but equally important is the process, as mentioned before. This process, the art of photography in capturing it, and the transformation of the space, all are equally important to us. Hence, the ‘process images’ are as important as the ‘final images’,” says Rahi de Roy.

The project is ongoing, and the students are trying to explore various ways to take it further. It has so far been a completely self-motivated and self-funded project.


Concept — Pritish Bali and Rahi De Roy

‘Egon Schiele’ played by — Pritish Bali

Photography — Richa Gandhi

Direction — Rahi De Roy and Pritish Bali

PaintingRahi De Roy

Assisted by — Shikha Soni, Palak Patel, Tejasvi Shah, Vaidehi Gohil, Deepthi Subramanyam, Priyanka Dass, Mainak Mitra, Narendran Nair.


Check out other superb Fine Arts entries from college students here.

Edited by the Editorial Team.