Performance part one - Making the Warp - "Your threads cut my fingers..."
This short video outlines the first performance of "Your threads cut my fingers...." Creating the fine, cotton warp which was then used in the second performance piece of "Your threads cut my fingers... they bleed yet again and again" at INIVA. This warp was beamed on to use on the loom, slowing drawing and unravelling the threads across the beams before being cut.... Undoing and re/doing the repetitive actions and labours of (historically violent) textile production in making a reflection on creativity/bodies/production and capital...
"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.
(weaving loom, projection, images, text, sculptural objects, soundscape, cloth)
Some details of the turban being woven...
- 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.
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.
Short film, shows the woven pieces in full length being shown at the textile degree show at Chelsea College. A sound piece accompanied the woven piece, which enabled you to listen to the piece of poetry spoken in Bangla.
The main piece is made up of 19 different characters, entitled "Lift the veil and see our silent language" and encodes a line of poetry written and translated in Bangla - my mother tongue. It's about the silencing of women of colour's voices, and LGBTQ women of colour, that there are in fact many different languages of queer, and not all of them will be heard or understood, but they are being spoken, and sometimes if you listen hard enough, you will hear them.
“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.
South Asian Queer photography project – exploring realm and location of private/public space, and the queer act of looking at oneself/reflections
Recreating/reflecting South Asian Queer space, using photography to instill a sense of invisibility/visibility, charade, and performance. KEY WORDS: The voyeur, the subject, and the gaze.
It can be argued that the South Asian queer person is only read as queer, in relation to the space they are in, or who they are with. In hetero/public space, layers of sexuality, and codes of queerness can be lost, or erased, and it is in often only in queer space that the narrative of queer ID can be confirmed.
Often it is private space, or the construction of self made spaces, that queer persons build around themselves, that they are the most safe and therefore most visible. It is in this space, created to look at oneself, see oneself and read oneself, which I wish to explore and present as an antidote to seeing oneself reflected in (white) constructed, hetero public space. As well as, questioning the subtle shifts of public space and private space, and how the South Asian queer ID person moves through these retrospectively.
In this scene from Fire 1996 (shown above) the character Sita is able to only see herself in the image she wants to create, when she is safely within the parameters of her private space. She is able to look at herself in the mirror, see her queerness and affirm it without any relation to how others see her, or place her. The crucial moment, is when Sita is engaged with her own image, watching herself dance in the mirror, in a private moment wearing men’s clothes and seeing herself as something more than how others categorize her.
“Though it is precisely when Sita puts on the male clothing that she transforms herself, by herself, enabling her to be the agent of her own desire, and in this case, queer desire. The power of queering Sita’s brown female body, with men’s clothing effectively eradicates that she is the assumed heterosexual, passive South Asian woman that fits into her gendered role, but it does not erase her South Asian identity either. This scene of ‘disobedient dressing’ permits Sita to belong in the South Asian space, yet the jeans on her body create a space where she can be queer as well as being South Asian. The two identities do not have to be mutually exclusive; she is able to be both these identities here at once.” (Kabir. R, 2013)
These first sets of images can provide a catalyst, in which to examine South Asian queer personal space. Constructed in private moments, yet subverting the gaze of the voyeur, and still retaining control of how South Asian queer persons are allowing themselves to be read, or seen within that space. Inviting the viewer to look, without them knowing what they are seeing. In order to play with the gaze of the onlooker and ultimately the self, we can show all or only parts of one self, the suggestion of a body, or reflections of that gaze in a mirror, very abstract images that hint at the possibility of what is about to be seen. It is here then, that we are confronted with the image and gaze of the subject instead, looking at themselves. A narrative of reflecting the private space on to the public space; subverting the outsiders lens with the subjects own examination of themselves, I argue is a queer act of looking.
This series should have a strong connection between, the subject, their own narrative and story, and reflection on what that means to them. A range of photo stories that explore the charade, and mirage of queer performance, and the struggle for visibility as South Asian lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer women, genderqueer persons; without facets of their identity being erased in the raced (hetero) public sphere and misinterpreted desire.
Where would/do you feel the most safe to be South Asian and LBTQ?
Can you describe that place? Is it tangible; a physical place or object, or a person, or only a sense of location?
If you imagine yourself in your private space, public space or queer space? Do you notice the difference - where is it easier to move through? What location?
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?