QUEER ARTISTS OF INDIA USE ART TO EXPLORE GENDER AND SEXUALITY

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6/11/21

In India, and South Asia in general, bias against women and other gender minorities remains prevalent across class, caste and social hierarchies. While there have historically been non-binary expressions of gender, such as with hijras, this community has only gained official recognition in the country in the past decade. History and the Hindu religion contained essential roles and functions for hijras, such as in courts during Mughal times as well as containing special powers in Hindu beliefs but they remain marginalised to this date. In this socialscape, artists, taking to the universal medium of visual communication, are creating a tiny, but significant space for bringing forth a radical change in the understanding of gender in India, by bringing conversation and awareness on the same, such as with genderfluidity. Humhu, a model, creative director, stylist and theatre lover who uses mixed-media, such as thematic fashion shoots notes that “Unlike several western societies, where a conscious direction of both expressing and exploring gender-sexuality is pursued in the art practice, in India, there is still a lot of shame attached to work that has the slightest hint of gender expression.” One of Humhu’s most important “art inquiries” includes looking at queer culture and gender, particularly in societies where it is under represented. Even as representation is lacking, Humhu reminds us that “In small towns, for example, in India, where most assume the absence of queer culture so to speak, it is as much political as it is exciting- we just have to look at these movements with that lens.” Queer folks in India have found limited and, often, demeaning representation in the mainstream. Hiten Noonwaal, a performance artist, fashion aficionado, visiting professor at several reputable fashion universities in India is recalls their own terrible experience of attempting to take part in the mainstream, in a very public platform no less. Hiten recalls, “When I auditioned for India’s Got Talent, a popular reality show, the song I sang was changed to Laila Mai Laila, an item number with raunchy themes- resulting in a vulgar and caricaturised representation of my performance. The queer community in India has always been represented this way, especially hijras and other non-binary identities, but it demoralized me quite a bit.”

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