Text & Visuals | Sara Yawar
This year, a great number of queer artists have showcased their work in Karachi, Pakistan. Topics like sexuality, space and gender have been addressed with each artist having their own particular language and visual imagery. In this particular article a few artists will be focused upon, mainly whose concerns revolve around society and politics in South Asian art, studied through the queer gaze.
An interesting body of work titled “Is It Possible to Live Outside of Language” which was created under the curatorial supervision of Aziz Sohail was exhibited at the IVS gallery in Karachi on the 22nd of August, 2019. Featuring works by queer artists, this show was inspired by Arundhati Roy’s ‘Ministry of Utmost Happiness’, a novel that reflects upon the life of a Hijra named Anjum whose mother struggles to give her intersex child an androgynous name and hence, opts for the name Anjum which was taken from the binary gendered Urdu language. During the process of naming her child, the mother wondered ‘is it possible to live outside of language? This sentence became the title of the show and helped produce this particular body of work.
On a quest to explore sexuality across time and various spaces, these artists comment on the social barriers one has to face today and use their distinct languages to explore their individual identities. Omer Wasim is a Karachi based artist whose work is known for exploring spaces through a queer lens. Using fragile materials like cloth and mirror, the artist perhaps reflects upon his own identity in his current body of work. An interesting piece by Wasim for this show comprised of two drawings suggesting a torso and a groin with pubic hair, the latter being covered with a delicate veil; this is possibly the artist’s process of ‘unveiling’ himself. Not only does he reflect upon his sexuality but the distinct and suggestive language of this particular visual encapsulates the viewer’s attention.
Vassiliea Stylianidou is another artist whose visuals comprised of two video projections titled Somatic TaleOhrZ. These videos discussed the story of an intersex child named Faraq Shayar Alli-Tis Faraz born on an island in the Arabian Sea who is now living in exile in Greece. One of the projections titled ‘Who Is The Next Person to Wear It?’ consisted of a small boy robed in layers of cloth and text was projected across his figure. While the artist aimed to make a discourse upon the complexities of language and clothing in Faraz’s life, this video possibly reflects upon his position as a queer and how even to this day, such an individual is otherized and cannot be categorized under a third gender.
Fiza Khatri’s visuals comprised of images of the barbershops and clothing stores in Kathmandu city, spaces that do not classify under a specific gender according to the artist’s statement. Displaying kitsch art, the images had an alluring and realistic quality in them despite looking animated; portraying a sense of time that has been frozen making the viewer feel a part of the space and place being depicted in the visuals.
The show also featured the work of The Many Headed Hydra, an artist collective based in Germany. They are group of artists that makes performance art pieces through conversations, narratives and storytelling. For this exhibit, they made a publication which comprised of dialogues between various artists, shedding light upon feminism and patriarchy. Apart from a publication, large cloth hangings were also on display which portrayed intermingling limbs and landscapes of Karachi’s beach, where interaction amongst individuals is limited due to increased inspection of the area.
Lastly, in order to study the physical body and human language and how they interact and influence each other, Lucas Odahara had created phalluses and other bodily organs with various languages written on them to study the complexities of the human body. Despite addressing individual concerns, the artists exhibited together an intense body of work which not only shed light on queer politics but also defined the relationship between humans and their own bodies.
In addition to the works, the show had a discursive component comprising of artists talks, conversations, reading groups, and discussions all centered around the idea of what it means to be queer and building a queer practice.
Another show that discussed queer and bodily politics was Tomorrow We Inherit The Earth – Notes from a Guerilla War, that was put on display at Sanat Gallery in Karachi on the 24th of September, 2019. Having the same curator, this show comprised of works by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who is a California based queer artist, performer and curator. Bhutto’s visuals target the world of oppression and fascism we live in today and the role warfare plays in spreading hate, his concept eventually stemming from the brutality and threats faced by the Hindu community in Pakistan, especially in his native Sindh.
In his current body of work, the artist reflects upon the utopian concept of warfare where fighters are adorned in embellishments to queer their personas while guns and rifles are shown to be shooting flowers labelling them as lovers, as mentioned in the artist’s statement. For example, a visual by Bhutto titled ‘Zhayedan Dulha’ depicted a wrestler donning a groom’s Sehra, while a colorful printed fabric had been put to depict wings, shedding light on the artist’s vision of making these warriors look like angels who are here to spread love.
Another visual titled ‘Zhayedan Abu Nawas Ibn Quzman’ depicts a wrestler’s body covered in floral drapery while a military gas mask has been put over the figure’s face, perfectly symbolizing the situation of the innocent who suffer during wars. By adding a floral drapery, embroidery and color in his visuals, the artist probably wants the viewers to look at the better side of things in the ruthless world we live in today and also, to normalize appreciating objects and subjects which are considered effeminate amongst all genders.
Shedding light on both the exhibitions, all these artists not only discuss queer politics and gender but they also have an aim to make the viewer see from their perspective, rather make the viewer see the different side of things, be it politics, space, gender, time or space. Their visuals will hopefully encourage people of our society to think outside of what they have been conditioned to believe and understand and will also, encourage emerging artists to develop their own language and vision to address world affairs today.