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Here’s a glimpse into some positive steps that were taken or are being taken towards understanding the LGBTQIA+ community in the field of arts & culture.
If we trace mainstream art through the years, we are bound to find heteronormativity in every form, whether it is in cinema, literature, or dance performances. This is not only problematic in its presentation and representation but also in its impact on the society and the way we think. Over the years, however, many efforts have been taken to change this.
When Deepa Mehta’s Fire released in 1997, the late film critic Roger Ebert announced it’s arrival as part of the “new freedom in films produced from the subcontinent.” The new freedom implied the entrance of films set in Indian contexts that were beginning to question norms within gender and sexuality.
This opened the doors to two things—first, it made it possible for homosexuality to exist as a major theme in cinema openly; second, it introduced the idea of a lesbian protagonist in a space which not only ignored this reality but also ridiculed it through its sorry portrayal in cameo characters that made appearances in Bollywood cinema.
While most films that explored such themes like Mango Souffle based on Mahesh Dattani’s play, and BomGay based on R. Raj Rao’s poems were not openly accepted by a mass audience, a film like Aligarh did manage to reach the mainstream cinema many years after, in 2015.
Since 2010, KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival founded by Sridhar Rangayan has been celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community by inviting films that focus on themes like everyday struggles of the community, their desires and aspirations.
Within visual arts, Bhupen Khakhar, an artist whose paintings portrayed gender and sexuality, was one of the most significant contributors who included gay love in his work. His paintings “You Can’t Please All”, “Two Men with a Flower” and “Yayati” are some of his best known works, of which the first one is considered to be his “coming out painting.”
Today, artists from across the country have been spreading the message of love within the LGBTQIA+ communities through their artwork or their performances through dance, music or poetry. Alok Vaid Menon, an Indian-American trans non-binary poet toured with their show Watching You/Watching Me performing across many cities in India. Bharath Divakar, a poet based in Bangalore, has carried their poetry performance FLUID that deals with the concept of identity and gender-fluidity to Bangalore and Pune. They’re now bringing the show to Mumbai on September 29th, in association with Kommune.
In 2018, the ME-WE art exhibition, organised by Engendered Art Gallery and curated by Myna Mukherjee, displayed the works of 25 artists, to celebrate the International Pride Month. A year before this, a leading voice of the community Harish Iyer, was already hosting Gaydio—a radio show that encouraged those from the community to come out.
If there is good art like this that helps the community, it is important to acknowledge and understand that there still is art that has been irresponsible and has existed for years and continues to dehumanise the community.
That irresponsibly created art led to the way society has repeatedly looked at the community, is only one part of the debate. Another part is that a law which criminalised the community, by calling consensual sexual intercourse between individuals within it “an unnatural offence”, existed until 2018.
To create awareness about the problems that have been faced by the community on an everyday basis, British Deputy High Commission, Ahmedabad is organising an LGBTQIA+ panel discussion on September 29th, which will be divided into three segments—understanding the developments in the law, the role of society and the role of the media in the way the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community have been spoken about.
Reputed legal professionals like the well-known law and policy researcher Tejas Motwani, respected advocate Sharvil Majmudar, and the Director of the Gujarat National Law University, Prof. (Dr) S Shanthakumar will be participating in the panel that focuses on the development of the law, where the aim is to familiarise the audience with the history of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and the recent developments that took place towards declaring it unconstitutional.
Nitasha Biswas, India’s first transgender beauty contest winner, Urvi Shah, CEO of Arranged Gay Marriage Bureau, Karan Jadeja, Program Coordinator at Vikalp Women’s Group, and Ishan Kaur Khalsa, Cultural Secretary of LSR’s Student Union, Delhi University will be the panelists who will take the audience through studying the problems faced by the LGBTQ+ community in the contemporary society and the progress made towards tackling them.
The final panel will consist of professionals from the media like Dibeyendu Ganguly, a former journalist at The Economic Times, Deepal Trevedie, Editor at Ahmedabad Mirror, Mihir Gajrawala, Co-founder and Chief Content Curator at Creative Yatra and Sindhu Eradi, a research scholar at MICA. This aims to analyse the various ways in which media has played a role in the struggle towards creating an inclusive society.
Repeated introspection about our attitude in the past and in the continuing moments that make the present is a positive step forward, as is educating ourselves. If you’re in Ahmedabad, I would recommend that you begin by being a part of this important panel discussion and understanding the community—in its plurality, in the way they deal with mistreatment, in the fact that ill-treatment towards the community is real and in the way that we can really grow as human beings, sensitive to everyone around us.
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