“Asking the viewer to look again, read the hidden text and listen to the silent language that sings” This is a quote from the poet Raman Mundair, and it explains the crux and concept of how my work relays ideas exploring invisible identities, the oxymoron, and codes of language.
Being invisible yet visible, the South Asian woman who is 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 certain fixed ideas about gender and assumed heterosexuality are projected onto that body, and a shade of visibility that is so often held onto raced bodies.
Where the language of ‘queer’ is read as implicitly White, it erases South Asian queerness in the process. This work is a process of revealing language, and reading queerness differently, in order to look beyond the surface by applying race to that identity.
That notion of what it is to be queer and what it is to be a South Asian woman, are seen to be identities that do not overlap. Where South Asian diasporic communities see LGBTQ identity as ‘other’ and as ‘western’ creating historic amnesia from the histories and culture before British colonialism. LBTQ women in India/South Asia do exist, and in the UK in the diaspora there are South Asian/Muslim queers and they are a part of our communities.
This is a piece of visual textile art, that incorporates themes around the experience and visibility of the self identified South Asian Queer woman.
How as a minority, is that existence erased and hidden from representation? How do we then navigate these invisible identities and challenge the expectations placed upon the identity of the South Asian woman, and the conforming ideals of gender, sexuality and morality?
By contrasting differences and encoding hidden patterns, then gradually revealing them within woven fabric – cloth becoming the metaphor - this work tackles in/visibility, being unrecognised, unacknowledged, unseen, and the violence that comes with being a South Asian queer woman. The duality, intersectionality, and corporeality of South Asian queer female identity.
Using the woven cloth to embed hidden motifs created out of letters from the Bengali alphabet, poetry is underwritten within the cloth. Thus employing a ‘loose thread’ embroidery technique (that emerges out of the extra weft figuring) which singles out specific letters within the cloth, enabling individual letters to be woven in with contrasting colours, and allowing the poetry to reveal itself within the cloth and subvert the conforming pattern.
A line of poetry translated into Bengali will be woven and hidden within the pattern of the cloth – “Lift the veil, and see our silenced language”
By encoding the fabric with hidden patterns of language that can only be read if you understand the code, it becomes an exercise in learning and reading queerness in relation to race, and the highlighting of differences and struggles in carving out a South Asian queer female identity.
This video documents the supporting work, drawings and woven piece as work in progress, as a showing at the RichMix gallery for International women's week in March 2013.
Uncovering hidden codes embedded within the cloth. If you look for the South Asian Queer, they are there, right under the surface, breaking the the pattern of uniformity.. smattering red across the canvas, your threads tumbling, tangling against the conforming pattern... Speeding and searing across the cloth.
"This is Just a Piece of Cloth" was shown at A Collection of Dangerous ideas, as part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.
The exhibtion had paintings, protest art, ceramics, photography, cartoons, video, and textile art.. All peices of work aimed to challenge the status quo of how we see the world, and therefore be perceived as a Dangerous Idea, an idea that speaks out, away from the norm.
Two pieces of work, that I've been working on to accompany my essay. These two Niqab will be worked on with extra drawings, and when more women will become involved, I will start work on further Niqab pieces. The actual textile pieces were exhibited, along with these photographs at the multimedia event, Mutiny for 'Violence on Trial' at the Resistance Gallery in Bethnal Green.
In this piece of work - Niqab: Just a Piece of Cloth, the artist has asked Muslim women who wear the niqab, what the veil means to them; regarding dress, identity, and their faith. The installation is meant to challenge the harmful attitude that Muslim women who adopt the niqab are forced by others to do so, and are in need of protection. It aims to voice women's words on their own valid decisions to wear this controversial item of clothing.
“Muslim women were portrayed as oppressed, abused, uneducated, powerless and far most dehumanized, because of Islam and its teachings, but anyone who understands the true teachings of Islam would understand the status that Muslim women are given in Islam. The point I wanted to make was the fact I lived in a so called democratic country, where I was given the freedom to address others anyway that I wanted, and I chose to wear the niqab.” Ardo, Ottowa
In response to the new legislation coming into force in France, against wearing the Niqab or Burqa in public areas, there has been a rise in islamophobia and an attitude of violence towards Muslim women, and not only in France, but increasingly a backlash is emerging in other parts of the western world, as more and more politicians are using the image of head covering as a threat to civil rights, and are encouraging fear of and suspicion of Muslims. Because women who cover, are easily identifiable, it makes them a target for abuse. And suddenly it becomes not just about freedom of religion, or dress codes, but about gender.
I want to challenge people's perceptions of covering, because if we have the liberty to show flesh and skin, we should have the liberty to cover up too. Religious or not, it is a form of identity, a form of dress, and a personal choice of modesty. I ideally would like to deconstruct the deeper meanings, and bring head covering back to being just a part of dress, just a scarf.
This idea of women having control over their own bodies, is still a battle, and I really want to create some work that says, I'm making a choice about covering, and I'm making an informed and educated choice, and I am free to wear what I wish; look beyond the scarf.
A response to the harsh conditions and low paid manual work of textiles workers in South East Asia. More than often the clothes we buy are the livelihoods of thousands of people, their blood, their sweat, their skin.
Feminist fabric kicked off, by surrounding myself with all that traditionally embodied the feminine – corsets, silk underwear, slips, garters and girdles, with the aim to explore real female sexuality, the sexuality that does not conform to the ideals presented to us in media. From reading Living dolls: The return of sexism by Natasha Walter, and Bound To Please: History of the Victorian Corset by Leigh Summers, I was able to establish what I wanted to say and portray with this project. From the over sexualised images of women, masquerading as free choice, to the fight for emancipation and freedom from the restriction of the corset, I explored a number of themes; and in the mean time I abandoned looking at how to distress and artificially age undergarments to convey the emotion within worn cloth. Eventually I narrowed it down to use the powerful symbolism of the corset, but to portray it in the context of modern society. I thought about inflated corsets, the imagery of pornography, the use of alternative materials, and traditionally constructed corsets.
Through extensive research, I learnt how to make a corset, I made my own pattern, and later on bought an Edwardian pattern for a corset. I thought about using sheer materials to layer a number of corsets together, with a pornographic printed fabric, to demonstrate an attempt to respond to the highly sanitised and air brushed quality of female sexuality we are exposed to. With these pornographic drawings printed onto the fabric, using three corsets, gradually getting smaller, and to display the corsets worn together, to represent the constant constraints of body image that are being, and always have done in the history of fashion in one way or another, imposed onto women.
But after going to the Kismet to Karma exhibition in Leeds, where a number of women artists were approaching similar issues of body image and the constant dictation of what the female ideal shape should be. I began to explore issues of fat, because it is the opposite of what the widely accepted ideal body shape is supposed to be. To be fat, normal, or just ok looking is a woman free from any constraint, or pressure to be anything but what she is. To be fat is the exact opposite of what a corset represents.
Using hand stitching, and traditional corset construction techniques, I was able to fashion an accurate corset, but with quilting and strategically placed hand stitches, I transformed its form into a body’s torso with hips, tummy rolls, and breasts, breaking free from the confines of the corset.
This project was definitely a journey, and a lot of ideas were spent and lost along the way, as new research and artists were explored. But overall this project speaks out about the issues I wished to raise from the onset. Exploring themes of what it is to be female, the undertone of past contraptions that housed women’s bodies to control them emotionally and physically, and raising the issue of the increasing exposure of an unattainable, pornified body image, of women readily being used as sexual objects. This is a corset that does not contain and limit flesh, it lets it loose. But it is a contradiction that mirrors society all the same, a constricting garment that alters your body shape but makes you fat instead. Women are told they can have whatever they want, they are told they can take their clothes off and be as sexy as they like, but in turn it is this pressure, it is this constraint on women to look a certain way is often what limits them.