Thursday, October 15, 2009

Project Proposal: Title: Towards an Understanding of the Dynamics in the Formation of the Queer Identity and Art in India

The ongoing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) activism in India is over two decades old. While activism seeks to actively define the politico-social and legal issues in relation to minority,[1] professional art production by queer artists function mainly as a catalyst in the formation of queer social identity[2] in the public realm. Internationally, such activism and art making are coeval with the expansion of queer theory, critical studies, curatorial practices, art exhibitions and publications. In India while literary research has reclaimed the histories of homosexuality and homoeroticism through publications,[3] certain interventional publications have focused on contemporary texts and thus have provided a major fillip to activism and aesthetic premises.[4] The central principle in all these is the fact that queer population is a discriminated, disadvantaged and legally vulnerable minority in India. Although often argued erroneously as a matter of private choice, the sexual fulfillment of the queer are subject to socio-politico-legal sanction, which make the present queer cultural expressions diverse, inchoate and riddled with complexity. While there had been a certain enthusiasm for queer cultural production by few queer art professionals; visual, literary and performative including film, many others who are otherwise queer, prefer to remain closeted.[5] On a closer scrutiny it is possible to also identify those who happily remain closeted in their art expression and those who are not so closeted and yet prefer to deflect the attention over to other aspects of their works. While this so considering the problematic of coming out of closet, however, it is a fact that historically queer activism and cultural production exist in tandem with each other and have proved to be most productive in certain instances. Importantly, prominent LGBT writers and artists gather their strength from the movement within and outside the country for LGBT rights,[6] and have definitively proved to be a significant intervention into the mainstream cultural field.

The proposed research intends to study the historical dynamics of the emergence of queer identity through art making. In that sense, the direction of the present research is towards exploring a possibility of speaking of the kinds of work being done by queer artists, writers and performers within the dynamics of closet and out of closet, and within and without the fame of socio-politico-legal activism. On a broader level it aims at documenting and developing critical insights into the area of LGBT cultural initiatives in the fields of visual art, literature, cinema, theatre and performance. While some artist’s works are primarily activist in nature, few others inscribe or encode sexuality tangentially and few others remain primarily committed to the formal and aesthetic premises. How and why of such instances will be probed into as part of the proposed project. The research will also investigate into the question of specific strategies of representation used by various creative persons in relation to issues of identity formation. Since the category “the queer art” itself has not yet seem to have come into existence as a valid category as far as the mainstream contemporary Indian context, the research will also look into such questions.

The project apart from enabling to produce a report and a paper is part of larger projects. These are: (1) Conceptualizing a curatorial concept for an art exhibition based on the research (2) The documentation, insights and the exhibition will form a part of a proposed queer cultural institution: ARQ: Archive, Research and Queer Cultural Practice – the concept note of which is attached along with this.

Apart from library work, the proposed project entails traveling to Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, New Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata and a few other places if the need be, so as to document the works, interact and interview LGBT artists in the above centers. Considering the specific mediumistic specificity of different cultural productions, the attempt would be to understand the production of queer art and the production of meanings. Within the specific scope of the proposed research, interviews on the above defined premises with writers such as Raj Rao, Hoshang Merchant and Mahesh Dattani will be undertaken. On the similar lines interviews will be conducted with film director Onir Ban, performer Astad Deboo, and visual artists Sunil Gupta, Ajay Sharma, Abir Karmarkar, Inder Salim, Kanak Shashi, Tejal Shah, Nandini Das, Jehangir Jani, Ramesh Pithiya, Pankaj Gupta, Anita Dube, among others as the research moves.

Prof. Shivaji K Panikkar
Ph: +91-265-2792254, Mobile:0-9898403097,
[1] Particularly significant is the battle against Indian Penal Code 377.
[2] The term ‘queer’ traditionally referred to effeminate men, and implied derogatory connotations such as ‘strange’, ‘unusual’, or ‘out of alignment’. In the contemporary international activist context the term assumes an unprecedented positive assertion against such derogatory usages. Used as a synonym for LGBT (persons of gay, lesbian and bisexual sexual orientations and transgender anatomy and sexual preferences) ‘queer’ is an inclusive, unifying sociopolitical umbrella designation for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, transsexual, intersexual and genderqueer, or of any other non-heterosexual sexuality, sexual anatomy, or gender identity.
[3] Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, (ed.), Same Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, Macmillan India Ltd., Delhi, 2001, (first published in 2000, St. Martin’s Press, Palgrave).
[4] Yarana: Gay Writing from India, (ed), Hoshang Merchant, Yarana, Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., New Delhi, 1999.
[5] Literary figures: Raj Rao, Hoshang Merchant, performers, theatre persons and film makers/directors: Astad Deboo, Mahesh Dattani, and Onir Ban, visual artists: Bhupen Khakhar, Sunil Gupta, Jehangir Jani, Tejal Shah among others.
[6]Arguably two organizations spearhead in this matter; InterPride coordinate and network gay pride events worldwide, and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) addresses human rights violations against LGBT and HIV people.

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