Composer, poet, writer, performer, theatre director and filmmaker, Ankush Gupta is a founding ex-member of Dhanak, a queer group from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, which has been networking with other queer organisations to intensify the movement towards queer rights in India for legal and social acceptance, and now works in a personal capacity to discuss the problems with the ideologies of such groups. He is also a founding member of the Theatre and Performance Studies Forum. A musician by training, he has composed music for around fifty productions since 2006 and is a founding member of and composer for Pare-llal Productions, an experimental music group that works with aleatory techniques and the intermingling of multiple styles in an organic way. Their work for the award-winning documentary ‘My Sacred Glass Bowl’ aimed at creating a debate around ‘virginity’ and the discourse on gender. He is interested in questions of gender and performance. His work with the street children from Salaam Baalak Trust led to two pioneer performances which have dealt with therapeutic processes and participant catharsis in ‘Sankat City’ (an adaptation of Andher Nagri by Bhartendu Harishchandra, 2013) and ‘A mind not Normal’ (an original, experimental performance written and performed by special children, 2014), the latter of which was performed during the International Conference organised by the Neurology Society of India. He is currently working with marginalised communities within the queer movement.
The Performance Cultures of the Transgender Community as the Site of Identity Politics
During my (limited) work with the queer community in India, I learnt of the problems of mainstream politics and how it was marginalising so many voices the hard way. I decided to change the course of my work in order to critique the queer movement from within and discuss ‘processes’ of gender politics outside of the framework of mobilising queer communities for their civil and political rights. Instead, I chose to analyse the emerging politics of sexual identity in relation to globalisation in the Indian subcontinent. My argument (in context of my research on Hijras) is that their identity does not reside in their bodies (as that comprises a vast array of variations) but in their ‘performance culture.’ I look at their performance culture as the site of their political, social and cultural identity, and am interested in exploring their complex relationship with the legal system as well as the queer movement. The transgender and gender-nonconforming bodies are bound up in surveillance practices that are intimately tied to state security, nationalism and the “us/them,” “either/or” rhetoric that underpins military and government constructions of safety. At the same time, the primary strategies and responses offered by transgender advocacy organizations tend to reconsolidate white nationalism and support the increased policing of deviant bodies. What is the place of these performance cultures? By working on their music, I am trying to look at the idea of music itself alongside that of gender - and both of their relationships with bodies or semiotics of any kind, e.g. of language. I am interested in traditional cultures which have found a transgender voice (I am using the term very self-reflexively) within their rigid structures and how these voices have negotiated them. How were these voices trained and what is their politics of space? How are they associated with/ accessed by/ distanced/alienated from their patrons/audience? These are only some of the questions that I am hoping to address in my project.
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