Oct 082012
Queer art

A unique exhibition that celebrates different sexual orientations comes as a heartening move in a conservative city like ours.

The Hyderabad Police may not have given the nod for a pride parade yet, but the city’s lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community, who are used to facing everyday battles for their choices, is not one to easily lose heart. In what seems like a first in Hyderabad, they have come together to host an art exhibition to celebrate queer pride as run up to the walk, which they hope to be able to conduct soon. “It is definitely the first professionally curated queer art exhibition,” says Vishal Tandon, an art historian, who is curating this exhibition at the Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies. The display celebrates the pluralities of gender and sexuality.

“We have a ‘Don’t ask, don’t talk’ attitude to gay and queer issues in the society at large. Being gay or a bi-sexual isn’t just about sex. There are issues of acceptance, marginalisation, rights and so much more to it than what meets the eye. The idea is to sensitise people to understand and relate to people with different sexual orientation by providing a cultural expression though art that appreciates and celebrates the differences in gender and sexuality,” adds Vishal.

A creative campaign
A collection of 20 paintings reflecting the fluidity of gender by six internationally renowned artists — four queer artists and two Indian women artists who don’t identify themselves as queer — are on display here. There is a self portrait of the US-based “eco-sexual” artist couple — Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, who take the earth as their lover and through a series of performances, get married to the trees, snow, sky and

Also on display are works of artists such as Jehangir Jani and Waswo X Waswo, both from India, who question the assumption that there are only two natural genders — the male and the female. The artwork of Qasim Riza Shaheen of UK is a series of beautiful performances where multiple personalities speak out of the photographed subject. In his photographs and performances, the personalities of the people overlap with his own — a comment that our lives and identities are interrelated.

The works of two non-queer Indian women artists — Mithu Sen and Manjari Chakravarthy — reflect fluidity of gender and sexuality. While Mithu mockingly turns the conventions of feminine beauty on their head by depicting herself as comical, devilish and as a gender-queer, Manjari’s paintings are a soliloquy of hush-hush sex words discussed between women in mofussil towns behind closed doors. “You don’t necessarily have to be a victim to empathise with the cause. I have a lot of gay friends… In fact, my best friend is gay too. Since I have an understanding of their struggles, I have been working on this issue for a long time. I am glad to be a part of the exhibition,” says Mithu.

A build up to the pride parade
The art exhibition is also a lead up to the first ever LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) Pride Parade in the city being organised by several city based communities in the city. It is a part of an effort to lend a cultural voice to the LGBTQI movement. “We did not want the Pride Parade to be just about the walk. We wanted it to be a platform for MSM (Men having sex with men) groups and LGBTQI groups in the city to come together for we are all fighting for the same cause. So we chose to have the art exhibition in a public space and not a white cube art gallery so as to take art to the people at large. We are very happy with the response, we’ve had about a 100-150 people walking in every day,” says Jayati Mathur, one of the founding members of Wajood, a city based LGBTQI collective.

They have work shops and more cultural activities lined up in the days to come, but the Pride Parade itself is still in doubt. “We had sought permission from the Hyderabad Police for a peaceful walk on Necklace Road from 3 to 6 pm. We had asked for permission to have eminent speakers and to play music, but that isn’t mandatory. We are willing to schedule the walk for another date as well or make compromises and work with the authorities as long as they just let us walk,” says Jayathi adding, “Initially, we were told that they were giving out no permissions for any sort of marches verbally, but we have no official response yet. When we checked with them a couple of days ago, we were told to re-apply for it again. So we are keeping our fingers crossed at the moment.”

Karthik Pasupulate