Inside an old East India Company warehouse-cum-gallery space in south Mumbai, the established New York- and New Delhi-based art contingent EnGendered recently hosted the long-awaited Mumbai premiere of their traveling, multimedia art tour “Resist”. The exhibition was a self-proclaimed “temporal art intervention and protest” about gender-based violence and discrimination. As a “survey exhibition”, the show brought together a diverse array of high-quality visual works from 27 established and emerging artists, as well as “live installations” featuring collaborations from some of India’s best-known designers and artists. In addition to the visual works, the exhibition’s opening also featured music performances from two Delhi-based bands, and poetry from notable poets and lyricists including the esteemed music lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar. Check it out:
Welcome back to the Koovagam mela, the annual meeting place for India’s transgender communities. The morning before the religious ceremonies (see Koovagam Part 1), one of three “Miss Koovagam” Beauty Pageants was in full force. Over 100 Transgenders, Aravanis, and Hijras of all ages and sizes participated in the pageant, which included dancing, strutting, speaking, and general fabulous-ing. For everyone’s enjoyment, a live band provided the contestants with Bollywood, Kollywood, Tollywood, and ___wood music for the three hours (or so) of the competition was held. Meet Gopi, the band’s ring-leader, Tamil playback singer S. Janaki reincarnate, who’s talent was hard not to notice. Incidentally, Gopi’s gender-bending “side attraction” got most of the attention that morning, earning praise from many of the performers who participated in the competition:
Well, it’s that time again. Summertime. In most parts of India, summertime brings sunny, cloudless, yet humid weather with highs in the lower 100s and lows in the upper 80s. Yet, in spite of these unforgiving weather patterns, it also happens to be the time for one of India’s largest religious festivals, the Kuthandavar-Aravan Mela (aka Koovagam Festival), which takes place in a small town called Koovagam, located in the middle of Tamil Nadu, the southern-most state of India known for its exceptional heat. The mela (festival) is best known for its open inclusion of transgender participants. The festival annually attracts over 100,000 participants and observers, numbers that resemble, but hardly rival, the Kumbh Mela (the world’s largest religious festival which attracted about 15 million attendees in Allahabad during January and February of this year). Koovagam can be best described as a mini-Kumbh, whose participants engage in a series of rituals while visually reenacting a story in the Mahabharata, one of Hinduism’s most important texts. The following video is an interpretation of the story and account of the event from the perspective of a Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer named Taejha Singh Susheela. Highlighting the perspective of an observer, this video is one of two that illustrate and (silently) critique the participant/observer divide; My next blog entry will contain interpretations from Koovagam participants within the transgender communities. Here’s part one:
Now that we’re about half-way through, I thought we would rewind the past five months and also take a look at some plans for the future. It’s a pretty good time to do this, incidentally, since it’s holiday season in just about every part of the world. Last week, Hindus celebrated one of their most cherished festivals Holi. Like many Hindu religious festivals, “playing Holi” is less of a formal display of faith and more of a street party commemorated through a bombastic display of powdered colors, water, the use of mind-altering substances (which happen to be legal on religious holidays such as this), and dancing. Though not directly related to the LGBTQ movement, the use of paints and colored powders in street-side festivities provides an apt visual for what the festival symbolizes, namely the breaking-down of social norms and acceptability, the celebration of life in various dimensions, and the arrival of spring. I avoided most of the chaos on the streets for fear of my camera getting irreparably damaged.
Take an auto rickshaw to Mumbai’s upper-west suburb Andheri. On Linking Road, just before reaching Infinity Mall, make a right on a “choti gali” and go to the building at the end of the street. On the top floor is Apicius, a chic, scenic venue where Mumbai’s premier, queer-oriented open-mic will be taking place. Meet the event’s anonymous organizers: Modern-day business managers by day, and LGBTQ activists by night, “Sherlock Homo” and “MJ” lead Mumbai’s effort in promoting free-speech and equality vis-a-vis their edgy, open forum-style website Gaysi: The Gay Desi. Today, they’re managing “Dirty Talk,” a live, open-mic featuring a diverse array of musicians, comedians, writers, and artists, with radio host sensation Rohini Ramnathan as the MC. As the name suggests, Dirty Talk has developed a reputation for crossing boundaries of all kinds:
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