Yesterday Tomorrow Today: Queer in India's Now
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A COUNTRY TAKES A HUGE AND UNEXPECTED STEP BACKWARDS?
In a monumental 2009 decision, the Delhi High Court decriminalized Section 377 of the penal code, which had made same-sex sexual activity illegal. When the decision came down, the LGBTQ community wept and danced with joy in the streets. International news outlets hailed the decision as “historic,” and many believed it was a huge step in a march toward progress in the rapidly changing country.
So the shock was pervasive when just a few years later, in 2013, the Supreme Court nullified that decision. As a result, India has the peculiar distinction of being one of the only countries in the world to have decriminalized and then re-criminalized homosexuality.
Now what to do? Though court convictions are real, they are uncommon. Much more pervasive and insidious are the ways Section 377 provides legal cover for harassment, physical abuse, and a general climate of homophobia and transphobia. LGBTQ rights groups can go back underground, safe spaces for the LGBT community can become more hidden, and LGBTQ people on the down-low can remain so.
But once the proverbial closet door has been opened, there is no closing it — as individuals, or as a society.
Though the law is back on the books, the interstitial years of progress and freedom cannot be erased or forgotten as easily as a bygone rule can be reinstated. For untold numbers of LGBT people who thought they were leaping into a sunny future, the reality is murky indeed. And so India is at a strange crossroads.
What is Yesterday Tomorrow Today?
Yesterday Tomorrow Today is an immersive exhibition comprised of photographs and multi-channel video projections that explores the effects of this surprising step backwards, as seen through the prism of India’s LGBTQ community. Each element plays with time, references history and the present moment, and brings the viewer into the lives of those upended by this about-face. The project will be installed in multiple locations globally (including India and the U.S.), in order to target a diverse audience.
The installation is explicitly designed to provoke feelings of destabilization and empathy for India’s LGBTQ community who are denied the ability to love who they want.
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 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 seen in the portrait 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 install large-scale projections — played in reverse — of urban and rural landscapes (as with the lead video at the top of this page) 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.
Taken as a whole, the installation is meant to question the narrative of the endless march towards progress. In the age of Trump, Brexit and other sudden-seeming about-faces, Yesterday Tomorrow Today tries to capture that feeling of destabilization, and dive deep into the lives of those affected by one such shift.
Where we are
Our team has completed content gathering shoots in the northeast urban and rural regions of India and is gearing up for another trip to gather more stories from the LGBTQ community.
Existing materials include:
- Extensive video and audio interviews with members of the LGBTQ community in rural and urban northeastern India about their experiences as queer people in India’s present moment, as well as what effect the law and its repeal had on their lives.
- Striking photographic portraiture
- Engrossing video portraits
- Rich and captivating tableaus showcasing wide vistas and intimate moments from across the lived experiences of the LGBTQ community
The upcoming trip, planned for March of this year, will bring us to the central and south of the country to expand the geographic diversity of the people and places we capture and provide as rich and informed a portrait of the present-day reality as we can.
What We Still Need
Geographic representation is key to understanding any demographic in India, and we plan to head to central and southern India on a trip in the coming months. From there, we’ll have the raw materials ready to turn into an installation.
In light of that, we are seeking contributions in two areas:
We are seeking sponsorship and support to complete additional shoots, as well as funds to fabricate and produce the installation. If you’d like to contribute personally, or your institution or organization is interested please contact us. Thanks to our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas, all contributions are tax deductible.
We are looking for spaces in the US, UK and India to showcase this installation, as well as producers and curators to help us realize it. Think museums, galleries, pop-ups, photo festivals etc. If you are interested in bringing this project to life, contact us.