The ongoing LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) activism in India is over two decades old which coincide with gay cultural practices. These seek to actively define the political, social and legal issue of the queer rights, particularly the battle against IPC 377. Such activism and cultural practices are coeval with the expansion of queer theory and critical studies in the West. In India too, this has found few, but enthusiastic support across a number of disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences. These initiatives have not only expanded the scope of queer cultural studies and activism but also have posed crucial challenges to the established theoretical/conceptual paradigms of gender and sexuality.
It is to be noted that for various reasons the queer activism that is in vogue today in India is primarily focused on health and jurisprudence. While considering that these are very important focuses, the present research intends to highlight the need for raising conscientious awareness among the community about its cultural achievements and in the public realm at large. In that sense, the direction of the present research is towards exploring a possibility of creating a future center for documenting, archiving, research and promoting queer cultural practices in India.
Scope and Objectives:
Located within the above context, the proposed research intends to undertake an assessment of the affect of gay activism on cultural practices in India. Proposing to work within the fame of socio-politico activism, it aims at documenting and developing critical insights into the area of gay cultural initiatives in the fields of visual art, literature, cinema, theatre and performance. The proposed hypothesis is that the prominent writers and artists gathered their strength from the gay liberation movement, and the significant intervention in the cultural field by them is primarily activist in nature. The central activist principle in all these is the belief that gays are a minority and crucial to such a position is the fact that although one’s gender and sexuality inevitably is a matter within the personal, they have social and political implications, since sexual gratification and gender disposition often have to be achieved through social contract, political and legal sanction.
One of the specific objectives of the proposed research will be to understand and historically relate gay activism and cultural production so as to understand the indistinct-able and yet not too obvious interrelation between gay activism on the one hand and the field of art making and reception on the other. The formulation ‘the indistinct interrelation’ defines the nuances of a not so obvious problematic between creative arts and the gay political movement which is as yet an under-theorized area within queer theory. However, it is apparent that art making/viewing and activism are deeply implicated into one another. The qualification ‘indistinct’ because any queer “speech-act” in the dictum of Michael Foucault and “radical re-signification” according to Judith Butler (Bodies that Matter, 1993) that arise within art, seems to belong to activism, yet in actual practice (high) art primarily functions within a small section of the elite class for various non-activist purposes, and the objects made as art, literature, performance or cinema do not prima-facie become socio-politico-activism. On the other hand, the category “the queer art” itself does not seem to have come into existence as far as the mainstream contemporary Indian context is concerned. However, it needs to be noted that within the definitive terms of activist radicalism, it is to the credit of the artist who have explored the personal, and have become the voice for the community.
Through the quest for a queer speech, and as a radical practice what is thought through with definitive subversive tools are some of the quintessential problems and dynamics that control and direct gay identity issues in relation to high art – questions of doing art while having to deal with and exist within the mainstream/heterosexual world; to live an alternative life, to demand equal rights, and to live with art making as one’s vocation. In this regard gay artists can be seen at crossroads; on one hand making choices between one’s political concerns, creating meanings, choosing materials, forms, and aesthetics, and on the other, acting in conjunction with the minoritarian political identity. From within the above indicated problematic the present project also intends to interrogate so as to check out if in particular ways (high)art produced by gay people are tamed to fit neatly with-in the high art realm.
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 (1) document the activist initiatives of various NGO, community and other such organizations and (2) to interact with members of the gay community on the key issues of cultural production and its affects. The project will undertake interacting, interviewing and documenting the work of prominent artists in the above centers. Considering the specific mediumistic specificity of different cultural productions, the attempt would be to understand and articulate the modes of reception of cultural production 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 and Jehangir Jani. Video- graphed excerpts of the interviews will be edited and put together as a documentary that will throw light on the interface of activism and art.
The present researcher in the course of last over five years have published and presented on public forums on prominent visual artists who have dealt with gay thematic in their works, and the proposed research project is expected to enable further publications of a few essays and/or publication of a book.
The present research intends to highlight the need for raising awareness among the gay community about its cultural achievements and in the public realm at large. The direction of the present research is also towards interacting with prominent members of the gay community regarding a possibility of creating a future center for documenting, archiving, promoting research and enabling queer cultural practices in India.
Prof. Shivaji K Panikkar
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