This is a short research film made during a textile research residency in Bangladesh. Meeting and working with local Jamdani weavers and their families. Rupganj is located just outside of Dhaka, here I met Alamin Bhai's family business, a weaving workshop nestled amidst many others in a village nearly entirely dedicated to making and setting up looms, and the weaving of Jamdani sarees.
"There is More at Stake Than Just 3 metres of Cloth."
Communicating the transitions and migrations of turbans from North India/ Panjab via East Africa to Britain, Raisa Kabir weaving on a loom, crafting cloth conceptually created by Raju Rage, who ‘performed’ embodying this cloth, with their complex migration narratives, on their non-conforming queer-transgender body.
- Uncovering the intrinsic movements between space, objects, and dress, in relation to how queer presenting brown bodies are read and perceived, in context to public/private space, and the affect of these dimensions upon the queer brown body and it’s own gaze.
South Asian Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered or Queer persons, it can be argued, are only read as queer in relation to the space they occupy, or who they are next to. Often because of the Eurocentric projection of LGBTQ identity, South Asian queer persons are rendered invisible. In (hetero)public space, layers of sexuality and the codes of queerness in relation to ethnicity, race and gender, can be lost or erased and often are reliant on queer space to “confirm” their authenticity.
“And they looked at us both on the street, holding hands, they stopped and the car stalled, while we waited to cross. Angrily paused, the driver settled her eyes on me, and flashed disdain before driving off. My queerness was erased, because you passed as a teenage boy, or she chose not to see you as a woman. And it was me who was shamed, who was shamed for holding a white boy’s hand in public, shamed for being a brown girl with a white boy. I was angry for being made to feel small (again), angry that our queerness was taken away from us, and angry for having to carry this gender wrapped inside of me, painted such a shade of Asian.”
The proposal asks different self identified South Asian LBTQ women, and trans/genderqueer persons, where do they feel the most visible, or safe to be LBTQ and South Asian simultaneously? Does such a space exist? If not - can it be created and re-imagined? How do South Asian queer ID persons see themselves reflected in these spaces?
These initial questions sparked the concepts and ideas to create the photo essays, and were a working collaboration between the participants and I the artist, who then became the facilitator to create and document these spatial interactions.
The photographs begin an enquiry into the construction of private/public space, utilizing dress, gender presentation and objects to hint at how race, gender and sexuality affect spaces and perceptions of the queer racialized self.
The individuals I was working with, were Indian, Pakistani and Bengali, who either struggle to reconcile these polarized parts of themselves, or were able to successfully knit their culture, family, and heritage alongside with being open around their sexuality
The series employs the connection between the subject, their own narrative, and reflection on what that means to them. It is a range of photo stories – abstract montages that read like essays or commentary on the struggle for visibility (and space itself). It also provides documentation, spanning age, class and gender presentation, as well as providing a UK context in exploring the interconnected social constructions of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
Alongside the exhibition in April at the Rich Mix, I have been given space, to hold a participatory panel discussion and/or workshop on the 27th April from 2pm. With an initial focus on the position of South Asian queer visibility over the past ten years, by bringing cultural producers, practioners, academics, artists, or film makers together, to discuss the politics of space, identity and diaspora, and it’s affect on the current visibility of South Asian LBTQ identified persons in the UK today.
More can be viewed here and the first proposal can be viewed here
1. Sita was interested in subverting public male heterosexual space, where she as an identified lesbian would often get her haircut in a Pakistani barbers shop in Whitechapel. The simple interaction of her sexuality and gender presentation occupying a space usually reserved for Asian men, her presence asked many questions about perceived homophobia in South Asian communities, and how race and gender is usually theorized.
2. Thoughts around longing for a time when they were able to pray alongside her father in Bangladesh, and not feel the oppression to conform to prescribed notions of gender initiated this piece. Where being a queer Muslim Bengali woman, the act of prayer in public religious space was near impossible and the space to do so safely, non-existent. We were able to create and document instead a space, where all these intersections were visualized and realised, using male Islamic clothing to ungender prayer. It was in creating space that powerful conversations occurred, and weretransformative in how they saw themselves.
3. Rita has been out as a lesbian since she was sixteen and feels strongly attached to her Indian and Bengali heritage. Where being a Mother is synonymous with South Asian female identity, it is in heterosexual motherhood that it is lauded. She wished to question the possibilty of what it would mean to be a single lesbian Indian mother, if she were to take that venture and what it would mean for her cultural identity, as well as refections on mapping out a future of possibilty.
"This work examines invisible identities, those that specifically cross over race, gender and sexuality.
Being invisible yet visible; the South Asian woman who identifies as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer, is often an identity that is, silenced, hidden, and un believed. Yet as a racialized woman her body is coded and gendered, and assumed heterosexuality projected onto that body. Where the language of 'queer' is read implicitly as White, its construction erases South Asian queer women.
The crux of this work is a process of revealing language, deciphering codes of difference, and (re)reading queerness differently as an identity which has race applied to it. Through collating interviews and portraits of women's stories, and weaving them into Bengali poetry hidden within the cloth; it seeks to throw light onto the (in)visibility of South Asian queer women.
The patterns are inverted characters from the Bengali alphabet, which conceal the poetry that underwrites the cloth. Asking the viewer to reexamine what it is they are looking at, and the unknown voices it contains. We do not all speak the same language; it is in acknowledging differences that we are able to see others.
A sound piece accompanies the work where you can listen to the piece of poetry. The poem which wouldn’t be the same if translated, speaks of challenging our perception of racialized queer identity, by listening to the silent voices, hearing the invisible stories, and by setting light to blackness we can see reflected, the blinding whiteness that masks our unspoken shadows."