Archiving queer lives in poetry

On a mission: Sailesh Naidu wants to raise funds to showcase poems in galleries and on digital platforms.

On a mission: Sailesh Naidu wants to raise funds to showcase poems in galleries and on digital platforms.   | Photo Credit: Drago Xie @dragoxie on Instagram

In a day-long workshop, gender non-conforming Berlin-based poet, Sailesh Naidu, will ask participants to imagine a queer future

Gender non-conforming Berlin-based poet and performance artist, Sailesh Naidu’s work stands at the intersection of sexuality, migration, race and class. In the pursuit to understand their own complex identities, they started conducting poetry workshops in Berlin to provide space to other queer and gender non-conforming people to express and discover themselves.

In the process, they realised that there was a wealth of stories that ought to be archived as personal and collective queer histories. After receiving a positive response in the German capital, Naidu decided to take the workshop outside Berlin for the first time and will be conducting it in Mumbai on Sunday at the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan.

“A lot of my work is centred around understanding my own queerness as a child of diaspora parents [in the U.S.] and how it has been shaped by migration,” informed Naidu. Funded by the Berlin Senate for Culture and Europe, the day-long workshop is open to queer, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming participants, where participants will be asked to imagine what a queer future will look like. Through readings of other brown and black poets, Naidu will encourage the participants to find their own voice.

According to Naidu, it is important for queer lives to be chronicled. “Especially in the moment where we are living right now when fascist and right-wing movements are taking shape, queer and gender non-conforming people are at the frontline of being attacked, diminished and made invisible during these struggles,” they said. “Queer lives, just by existing, is political.”

Archiving queer lives in poetry

The goal for Naidu, ultimately, is to build an archive of poems, which currently exists as a personal collection from various workshops that they have conducted. They want to raise funds to showcase the poems in galleries and on digital platforms to generate visibility.

“It’s important because when you look at India, there is such a deep historical erasure around queerness through British colonial laws, current ruling governments and education systems. That’s why these archival projects are so important in post-colonial countries where we are unearthing our histories and understand queerness, not through Western identities,” observed the 35-year-old poet.

Currently working on their first poetry book Territory, Naidu often finds themselves at the crossroads of queerness and colonialism. “My dad was a Telugu speaker and my mom spoke Kannada. But growing up in the States, they didn’t want to teach me my mother tongues because they feared I wouldn’t integrate well,” informed Naidu. “I don’t have a command of either my native languages [which] I was denied because of racist practices within the education and social systems, so now when I do this workshop I still do it in colonial language, so there’s something to critique there.”

Naidu finds it noteworthy that queer archival work in post-colonial countries like India is largely limited to English, a colonial lingua franca. “These are interesting intersections to explore as the project grows, and ideally we want to explore how does poetry look for queer people in their native languages and in languages that haven’t been colonised,” they concluded.

The workshop will be held at Gallery MMB, Fort, on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Participants can register on

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 8:13:41 AM |

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