Both Sides of The Veil
Living and Loving in Queer India
Both Sides of The Veil is a planned immersive exhibition comprised of photographs and multi-channel video projections of India’s LGBTQ community. Through extensive interviews, still and video portraits and scenes of daily life in contemporary India, the installation explores the jarring effects created when social progress abruptly changes course. At its core, it explores the question:
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A COUNTRY TAKES A HUGE AND UNEXPECTED STEP BACKWARDS?
In 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalized Section 377 of the penal code, which made same-sex sexual activity illegal. When the decision came down, many believed it was a huge step in a march toward progress in the rapidly changing country.
So the shock was widespread when, just a few years later in 2013, the Supreme Court nullified that decision. Then, at the beginning of September 2018, the Indian Supreme Court struck down Section 377 once and for all, ending years of limbo. But for a time, India had the peculiar distinction
of being one of the only (if not the only) countries in the world to have decriminalized and then re-criminalized homosexuality.
Though court convictions were real, they were uncommon. Instead, the law provided legal cover for harassment, physical abuse, and a general climate of homophobia and transphobia. But despite the newfound legal freedom for members of India’s queer community, there are many social barriers that remain before anything like true equality can be claimed.
Through extensive interviews and portraits, this project explores what it’s like to be queer in the present moment in India. And in the age of Trump, Brexit and other dramatic about-faces, this work explores one community’s sudden shift in fortunes, a microcosm of the global tides rewriting our collective sense of progress.
The concept of the installation includes three major elements:
1) Video PortraitS
In a separate enclosed space within the larger space, we will create a grid of video portraits of characters variously staring into the camera, with their backs turned, or beginning in one position and turning their backs (or vice versa) as the viewer watches. These will be presented as either a semicircle or in a 4-channel projection surrounding the viewer on all sides. At any given time, visitors will be confronted with the stoney gaze of members of the LGBTQ community or their backs, and individuals within the grid will turn at various moments creating a rich visual interplay. This element will also have its own soundbed composed of moving snippets of interviews woven together with ambient audio from various places in India, Bollywood songs and other elements all played in reverse. The result will be a rich and eery accompaniment to the striking grid of videos.
2) STILL PORTRAITS
Throughout the space we will hang vibrant photographic portraits of those we’ve met, printed at human scale (examples can be seen throughout this page). Photo portraits will be accompanied by quotes and/or stories displayed alongside (or accompanied by snippets of interviews projected from above and triggered by a visitor stepping in front of the image). The images variously hide or reveal the sitter's face and location. Also occasionally seen in the portraits are the hands of others helping hold up backdrops, alluding to the ways the larger community is culpable in the current state and its solution.
Throughout, we will also install large-scale projections — played in reverse — from the urban and rural settings where our characters live; intimate scenes from the daily lives of our characters; and other scenes of manufacture and production, conveying an endless coming together and undoing of everyday objects. These elements are intended to bring the audience into the environment of the people affected, but also to destabilize them and alert them that something here is amiss.
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Taken as a whole, the installation will disrupt the narrative of an endless march towards progress. In the age of Trump, Brexit and other sudden-seeming about-faces, Both Sides of The Veil is explicitly designed to provoke feelings of destabilization, as well as empathy for India’s LGBTQ community, who, for years, were denied the ability to love who they want.
The project will be installed in New Delhi, in order to target a diverse audience and engage them in the conversation about what is next for India’s LGBTQ community.
We will launch an exhibition of the work at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre on January 10. The India Habitat Centre is deeply rooted in New Delhi's arts and social justice communities and strives to showcase work and projects that help advance the cause for both.
The show will feature some 50 images, spread out across the large campus in a totally public exhibit, up for 3 weeks in January, and is expected to reach more than 200,000 Indians from across the socioeconomic spectrum.
We are working with a Delhi-based marketing team to draw a diverse array of the Indian public to the exhibit, and with a coalition of schools to draw in yet more, with the ultimate goal to bring this work, and the questions it asks about the future for India's LGBTQ community, to as broad a cross-section of Indians as we are able.