“Your threads cut my fingers, they bleed yet again and again”
A part live “woven” art piece, that re-invokes the histories and threads of violence encoded within cotton cloth production, and the resistance of the queer brown body. Focusing on the performance of racialised labour, migration of textile workers, and the Bengali Diaspora, the work re links the geographies of Oldham in Lancsashire and Dhaka, Bangladesh; two historic towns that were built on the production of cotton cloth.
Dhaka witnessed the colonisation of India by the British from the 18th Century, and the co-opting of the skilled weavers there to export cotton to England, known to produce the finest muslin cottons available.
This link is later re-routed when immigrants, who left Bangladesh during the 1971 war, arrive in the UK and ended up working in the Textile factories in the North of England, in mill towns in Lancashire like Oldham, who once during the height of the industrial revolution, proudly out produced and undercut the hand weavers of Bangladesh and India. When Bengal was divided during the partition, people used cotton cloth as signs of nationalism, and resistance to Bangladesh being torn apart.
The work uses reclaimed spools from disused Lancashire factories, and unravels the spools of thread, which have been spun from cotton in South Asia, to create a woven installation using parts of a hand loom. The work is a retracing of the repeated use of racialised labour and it’s connection to cotton cloth, and hinting at the violence that permeates this innocuous looking material. Taking a look at the how cloth is inextricably linked to resistance, the brown body, colonialism and capitalism, and how the effects are still dictating working people’s lives today.
Performance took place at INIVA gallery as part of their Contemporary Rites Live Art programme of Emerging practices. Photos courtesy of Christa Holka.
“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.
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.