Paragraphs and Borders conceptually stems from reading textiles as texts, and the transmission of language. The piece is a photograph of a handwoven piece of cotton cloth, stretched, compressed and zoomed in digitally until it is visually not recognisable as a textile any longer but resembles an abstract print. A distance is created between the intensive labour processes that had been produced to create the hand woven cloth, and the viewer. To reimagine a cloth imbued with the expected labours of a South Asian textile artist and manipulate the medium to throw it out of context, as commentary of the continued cycle of globalised racialised labour expected to continually meet demands of the consumer, or viewer. An unreadable text(ile) that re contextualises how the textile can be read. The piece is rooted in examining exhaustion, art production as labour, and the very physical labour of hand weaving and it's relationship to my disabled (queer brown) body. The labour processes are distilled into a sound piece instead to convey not the final piece of cloth, but the vast labours needed to produce and fashion a fine woven cotton fabric.
XANA http://xa-na.com/ Sound Artist based in London. We collaborated together to create a layered sound piece taken from the abstracted sounds of the labour involved in weaving a handloom woven cloth.
"The literary roots of postcolonial studies mean that debates about voice and, crucially, voicelessness, are familiar concerns. But it may be worth asking if it is fair to ‘read’ the textile in the same way that we might treat a piece of postcolonial literature. On the one hand, text and textile share numerous linguistic connections. It has, for example, been noted by scholars that the root of the word ‘text’ is shared with ‘textile’, essentially ‘to weave’.
The construction of texts share similarities with that of the textile. By this I mean the building up of small increments (words, threads) into a larger whole (sentences, paragraphs, cloth). As a result, there is a structural familiarity between the two disciplines that has been explored by scholars who observe that the knowledge of one discipline may then be transferred to another. "
Post colonial Textiles – Negotiating Dialogue – Jessica Hemmings
Cross/Cultures: postcolonial studies across the disciplines
Clothes, Cloth and Culture Group meeting in February featured a collaboration between two young artists, Raisa Kabir and Raju Rage. They described how they use their art and textile practices to address gendered South Asian queer identity and the meanings of cotton cloth on the brown queer body. Raisa Kabir brought along examples of her woven textiles and Raju Rage dressed in a sari printed with archival photographs.
The artists worked together on the project "There is More at Stake Than Just 3 Metres of Cloth" which represents the migrations of South Asians from North India/ Panjab to East Africa to Britain and the symbolism encoded within the turban. Sociologist Nirmal Puwar offered her thoughts and questions followed by comments from the intrigued audience.
Read more about the participants on the webpage and an audio recording of the event is available below.
The politics of cloth as a tool of resistance, and the queer brown body.
Join us on Thursday 19 February 6:30 - 8:30pm to hear artists Raisa Kabir and Raju Rage and sociologist Nirmal Puwar.
Two young artists, Raisa Kabir and Raju Rage, use their art/textile practice to address the violences of colonialism, gendered South Asian queer identity, and the meanings of cotton cloth on the brown queer body. They use cloth as a decolonising tool of resistance and metaphor. Sociologist Nirmal Puwar will respond to their presentations.
"There is More at Stake Than Just 3 Metres of Cloth" A cloth to be worn as a turban, conceptually conceived by Raju Rage, was collaborativly designed and hand woven by Raisa Kabir. Exemplifying the migrations of South Asians from North India/Panjab to East Africa to Britain, and the symbolism encoded within the turban. It signified a visual recording of this complex migration history, the colours which begin brightly coloured as worn in India, are symbolic of the transition of culture, as they migrated again and again, in order to survive the racism, and violences of living in the Diaspora, the colours sobering until the cloth is rendered plain black. The final woven turban was then used in a performance piece by Raju Rage who wore the cloth on their non binary body, reiterating the struggles of having to define gender, culture, race, ethnicity and sexuality in the Diaspora.
"Your threads cut my fingers, they bleed yet again and again"
A part live "woven" art piece evoking violence in the history cotton cloth production, and the resistance of the queer brown body. Focusing on racialised labour, migration of textile workers, and the Bengali Diaspora, the work re-links the geographies of the cotton towns Oldham and Dhaka. Raisa looks at the extreme labour processes of hand weaving as a metaphor for the racialised queer body, and the histories carried in cloth/the body.
Raisa Kabir is multi-disciplinary artist, weaver and writer, who uses contemporary textiles, sound and photography to interrogate, and question concepts around the politics of dress in connection to space, gender, race, and sexuality.
Trained as a weaver at Chelsea College of Art, she utilises the embedded histories of cloth, to comment on the compacted social histories that are encapsulated within material culture. She has written about South Asian queer dress identity and culture, queer femme of colour invisibility, as well as cultural appropriation, ethnicity, diaspora and dress.
Raju Rage is an interdisciplinary artist, creative-critical writer and community organiser who is proactive about carving space, self-representation and self-empowerment using art and activism to forge creative survival.
Working in live art, Raju focuses on de-con-structive techniques of resistance such as interruption, confusion, disturbance and anti-performance, primarily using embodiment and working with assemblages of sculpture and multi-formulations of unspoken narratives. Raju Rage's current project 'The Dilemma of the Diaspora to Define' examines the tensions and conflicts of negotiating complex diasporic identity using culturally coded sculptural objects such as cloth.
Nirmal Puwar is a senior lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmith's College, University of London. As a leading sociologist she looks at issues of race, gender, space and body. She is the Director of Methods Lab, which initiates a series of projects at the intersection of academia and other public, as well as private, realms.
“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.
Orignally published on The Body Narratives.
Trying not to erase myself –
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.
“Other” kind of Brown
- 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.