Pushing boundaries

Apart from music and video art, Sakhiri included personal narratives by sexuality minorities.

Apart from music and video art, Sakhiri included personal narratives by sexuality minorities.  

YOKING TOGETHER things which once stood apart in their own strictly defined territories is now the order of the day — be it interdisciplinary studies in academics or fusions of various genres of art. So one didn't really expect anything earth shattering, though the invite for Sakhiri sounded pretty dramatic, calling it "an electro-acoustic performance crossing genders and mixing sounds, images, video and poetry in music".

But the performance at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore turned out to be something to snap you (may be even shock you) out of complacent notions of art forms and what they can and can't speak of. For, no amount of exposure to fusion prepares you for a no-holds-barred dance of hijras against the background of psychedelic play of light on a video screen, to the accompaniment of a spiralling Hindustani alap and strains of guitar.

Sakhiri was conceptualised by French bass-guitarist Dr. Floy (in her artist-in-residence programme of the French Embassy), in collaboration with Hindustani vocalist Sumathi and visual artists Tejal Shah and Natasha Mendonca. The programme was remarkable for the way it, at once, questioned two conventional notions: of gender issues and of the mediums through which such issues can be articulated.

The audio-visual material for the performance was collected over a period of one-and-a-half years through workshops with sexuality minority groups in Bangalore. Blending these inputs with video art, Hindustani music and electronic sounds, the performance spoke with several voices — of a rights activist, of a poet speaking of love, longing and suffering, and of a philosopher seeking the meaning of "self" — and comfortably moved from one to another.

Sakhiri included personal narratives by sexuality minorities, both recorded and live. A couple of hijras came up on stage to talk about how they had suffered at the hands of an insensitive society: rejected by families, not given jobs, condemned by a exclusionist moral code, harassed by the police... One of them, Revathi, read her own poem in Tamil which was interesting for the way it progressed from pleading for attention and space to assertion of rights.

Starting with how families and society at large "don't" accept hijras, the poem moved to a "they better accept us" position. There was also a touching testimony by Famila, the hijra activist who died under tragic circumstances and to whom the whole programme was dedicated.

At a more abstract level, Sakhiri also spoke of how notions of self (of gender and beyond) are extremely elusive. The short poem "Naan Badalade" set to an Arabic tune by Sumathi seemed to capture the angst that accompanies all changes in life, and paradoxically, all things which refuse to change in life too. The performance used pieces of poetry from various sources. Amir Khusro's poem ("Khusro dariya prem ka/ Ulti vaki dhar/ Jo ubra so dub gaya/ Jo duba so par..."), sung live by Sumathi to the video of a picture set afloat on a stream, reflected on an all-consuming love that rebels against the logic of the "rational" world.

A particularly remarkable piece was Inner Turmoil, which again spoke of the pangs of the making of a "self", portrayed by Sumati's stunning vocals and the video clip of a young girl (wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed loudly: "Girls") sitting amidst a heap of crumpled papers in the corner of a room. Sumati's alap to the accompaniment of the visual of a red pen's quick strokes and then of a burning cigarette butt on the canvas stayed in mind for long.

But the most telling piece by far was the last one, which had a group of hijras dancing in complete abandon to Sumati's soulful alap. It spoke most eloquently of the creative possibilities of all transgressions — be it of gender or of artistic expression.

A lawyer who was in the audience at Alliance told this writer after the performance that some of the hijras who had danced with such passion had been beaten up by the police the previous night for "immoral trafficking". It made one wonder if only those who dare transgress bounds of "normalcy" know the true meaning of words such as "joy" and "suffering"!


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