Society

Beyond binaries

Making a statement  

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An evening of performance art, photographs, installations and music challenged our ideas of gender

It was a whacky, fun evening at Gender-Bender, an event organised by Goethe-Institut in association with Sandbox Collective. It reminded us of the need to re-look at gender as it truly is, and not in terms of binaries and black-and-white. The work was selected by an eminent panel comprising Anmol Vellani, Arshia Sattar, M.D. Pallavi and Suresh Jayaram. All the artists were given small grants to develop their projects, and showcase them at the event, which was held earlier this month.

The evening began with a walk through photographs and installations. Though it was chaotic, with quite a big turn out, and not much space to move, the photographs and installations were excellent original works of art. Sweta S., through her images, chronicled the travails of Hetal Dave and her journey of being India’s first and only women Sumo wrestler. Sangeeta Rana’s photo-installation Knots & Crosses highlighted the lives of women construction workers. Afrah Shafiq’s art installation, used GIF postcards to depict the ideas of gender, and 16-year-old Samragni Dasgupta’s photo art of three young teenage girls who defy society’s pressures of being a certain way to be ‘popular’ or conform to a particular standard, were unique.

The evening picked up with the performances, which were an amalgam of distinct styles and brought to the fore issues from the obvious to the subtle. The performances kick- started with a screening of 21-year-old Zui Kumar Reddy’s angsty, in-your-face, radical music video, Geof Josef.

The video was a refreshing, satirical take on women’s desire, which is often muffled by a patriarchal society. Vikrant Dhote’s solo act, which was about breaking stereotypes, queerness and hyper masculinity, managed to hold the attention of the audience, with Vikrant expertly switching among roles. While in parts the performance flagged a bit, there were some parts that were powerful and even heart-rending.

Anuja Ghosalkar’s Lady Anandi was a well-crafted production depicting three stories, set in Marathi theatre. Salmin Sheriff essayed the role of a man who plays women’s characters, but despairs when the fan fails to accept him. In another scene, he is shown as reluctant to play a woman’s role. The closing scene was particularly powerful.

In it a young girl is reminded of her great-grandfather as a sari-clad theatre actor. At the same time, she is brought up as a ‘girl’ who can’t run too fast, speak too much, and is asked to wear pink, not blue.

The Deepika Arwind-directed A Brief History of Your Hair was brilliant. With no words and only movement and music, the two actors, Nitant Nair and Swapnashree Bhasi, were in complete synch. The actors transposed each others’ gender identities using their hair as a ‘prop’, showing powerfully how hair defines gender.

Hina Siddiqui’s portrayal of the ultimate woman super villain was a bold performance on consent, with men on the receiving end.

Sumana Chandrashekar’s Rendu Ghatam, overturned the notion that the ghatam is an instrument played mostly by men. Sumana’s journey as a ghatam player was fascinating. But one did wish she played it more during the performance as it was magical every time she drummed her fingers on it.

Gender-Bender was different in its approach towards art. Artists need to be bold, challenge the audience, make them think and move (we were made to re-arrange our seating positions with every performance) and re-imagine an individual’s life within a tradition bound society. Gender Bender lived up to all these standards.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2017 11:16:33 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/beyond-binaries/article7578723.ece