"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.
Abstract for “Binding the sari: the politics of space, dress and the brown, queer femme body”
"South Asian Queer femme women, because of the way racialized gender is culturally coded as heterosexual are often rendered invisible – partly because of their feminine presentation, as many femmes will attest, but more so because of the way their gender and ethnicity are inextricably linked and defined by others. Their queer authenticity repeatedly questioned, and their sexuality framed only when in proximity to a visibly queer presenting person or occupying a LGBTQ space, and even then their entry into those spaces may be denied.
Dress is an integral component in building visible connections to various aspects of a cultural identity, such as identifying with a youth culture, expressing one's gender or sexuality, and sometimes an ethnic identity attached to diasporic roots. We know that dress can equally be instrumental in the construction of queer identity, though popular representations of queer identity and culture are often implicitly racialized as White, while 'authentic' queer identity is visually represented with Eurocentric formations of queer masculinity, or femininity.
Through examining the use of dress as a tool to resist these norms of Eurocentricity and heterosexuality, we can highlight the ways race, gender, culture and sexuality are ascribed to particular bodies in particular spaces, and how radical dress can affect the visibility of South Asian femme women in relation to public/private space. A different look at racialised representations of queer femininity, and the making or (un)making of gendered ethnicity. This piece begins to investigate the role of ethnic and queer femme performativity in constructing racialized queer femininity. Through visual case studies and interviews, it explores the intrinsic relationships between dress, identity, and culture in the formation of South Asian queer femme identity." Raisa Kabir
I had wished I had been White my whole life. Yet it was a desire so latent, I could not articulate, speak of, or even let my tongue touch the words. It was a desire cut so deep it took years to excavate that embedded, stony knife.
I hated being brown, and I hated being associated with it - it wasn’t Raisa. It wasn’t me. As a teenager I flinched and felt uncomfortable when anyone pointed race out to me. I strived to separate myself from what being “British Asian Bangladeshi” meant in this country – poor, working class, uneducated, oppressed, strict parents, religious – And in doing so I, an unaware teenager, was propagating racism. Internalized or otherwise.
Cultural and visual media do not happen in vacuums, and the deeper connotations behind these islamophobic images, expresses how western society positions Muslim women.
A Muslim woman wearing a Niqab walks in the British northern town of Blackburn, 2006 Getty Images.
Unemployment rife, our welfare state is being ravaged and the numbers that are turning to food banks is steadily rising. Creating an aversion by picking on Muslim women is easy political fodder; though the practice of a minuscule, minority of women being disproportionately portrayed as a pressing issue was achieved quite successfully, in part because of the imagery used.
Over the past two weeks we’ve seen the stock images of voiceless and nameless Muslim women on the front covers of newspapers and blogs in the UK, wearing the niqab. The wearing of a piece of cloth, in schools, hospitals and courtrooms, is suddenly a contentious issue; “Ban the veil!” we hear newspapers cry.
This contemporary dialogue obviously affects Muslim women here in the UK; it stokes our political climate of Islamophobia, with revived EDL marches, and creates legitimacy in attacking visibly Muslim women and communities. Though wider global narratives cannot be ignored, neither can popular visual culture. Cultural and visual media do not happen in vacuums, and the deeper connotations behind these islamophobic images, expresses how western society positions Muslim women.
The representation of women who wear the niqab, or burqa in prominent media is important in justifying these politics, but we can recognise, that they are themselves a byproduct of the imperialism from the past decade, revalidating racist ideology. Where actual Muslim women are derided as oppressed, uneducated and divorced from western society, this loaded garment and symbol of “oppression” is being co-opted in fashion, ready to be consumed.
These are a set of photographs, that need to be viewed together as a photo story. They serve to act as a conduit, between the eye of the voyeur and the measured eye of the photographer. This is an observation in looking, at someone else, looking at themselves.
There is an ambiguity, a tension, and a sense of a pause. That framed moment. A veil of steam, a curtain of light, the door slightly ajar. These are the moments of the just before.
It's a private yet public moment. It invites you to look, but it's still controlled, there is still a veil, a mist, a wetness, a smudge of frailty that reveals it's humanity. In this bathroom, my private space. Where I look at myself, and I record it. The mirror, the lens, the door, the curtain. It's a charade. It's a performance. But who is she performing for? But it's real all right, even thought she's barely visible, she's a mirage of the steamy shower sex scenes that never come to fruition. It isn't a voyeurs lens. It's my own.
For me this work is about how I see my queerness; and in examining myself, I finally have control over how others see me. When in so many instances people never view you as how you see yourself.
This photo story steps toward confronting my own intersectionality, between race, gender, and sexuality and disability... My own queerness enables me to transcend these layers and hold my own identity within my hands, in a way that makes sense to me, after all the years, it makes sense now... I cannot call myself any other name than queer, because my identity confronts each and every other facet in a contradiction. I am visible, yet invisible, here nor there. Hidden and revealed. People choose to see parts of me first that I have no control over. It is what you cannot see, just beyond the door, out of frame in the mirror, I wish to draw attentention to. South Asian, Queer Woman, Brown Femme, my disabled body that is invisible to most.. what is she? I am blurred and suspended between the trajectories of heterosexual and queer, Asian and Western, looking able bodied and being disabled....the pause and suspension between those pivotal points. It is this I seek to capture.
"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.
Did you think any differently about the six different version's of Raisa here?
Dress can be important visual markers in building up a picture of a person, definitely. It is indeed a projection of ones self. But subconsciously or not, and whether we like it or not. We do project an image to the world, and the world judges you in 3seconds based upon your dress and demeanour. Clothing conveys several markers, ethnicity being potentially one of them. I'm trying to examine the perception of how people see brown bodies in relation to South Asian ethnic clothing. Is there an instant response to how the brown female is perceived and seen when wearing different codes of dress, traditional, western, religious, forward, exotic.. etc...
What do you think the six different Raisa's clothing, say about them?
Perhaps you can glean, ethnicity or culture, or religion, or perhaps none at all. How about class or education? Did you assume anything about any of them, without even thinking? Maybe you thought entirely differently?