Calling queeps for collaborating on a small visual arts/research project through which we want to figure out how and why people have such deep attachments to figures of political leadership.
Recent political history in India, as elsewhere, has opened up many questions about the figure of the Leader in politics. The emergence of the phenomenon of the Modi bhakt, people defined by an unquestioning devotion to the figure of the leader whose #56inchchest stands as though beyond the law, above the fray of humans with failings, for instance, demonstrates that the figure of the leader has risen above politics itself. So powerful is the figure that he is able to draw legitimacy from suffering caused by his own dispensation. This is demonstrated by Demonetisation or Notebandi where we see people who have lost livelihood and security experience their suffering as a sacrifice in the name of the nation, and ultimately in the name of Modi. (Or so goes the narrative in the controlled media).
But this is not merely about Modi! It is about a certain form of politics itself. And neither is this unprecedented – we see this form, or something similar to it, in the contexts of the Fascism of Mussolini, the figure of Obama, leaders around the African continent who have ruled for decades on end… In India, perhaps the original instance was Indira Gandhi. This form, where the body of the leader lies at the centre of political imagination can today be seen all around us. Whether it be Kejriwal or Kanhaiya, Mamata, or Mayawati, the body of the leader is itself being placed at the centre of political processes and promises. It is as though to be a citizen, or a political actor, is to have a relationship with the figure of the Leader. In these times, where the centrality of the leader becomes so crucial to the way politics is done/happening, forms of relationship with the leader (for instance, persons critical of the State, surveillance etc.) also tell us about as a resistance to the dominant ways in which people relate to other leaders.
We see the rise of the figure of the Leader as being about gender, caste, religion, class, race and the sexual in politics. Modi’s body after all, displaced that of Manmohan Singh, which was actively feminised in political discourse, and in opposition to Rahul Gandhi, portrayed as the infantalised Mama’s boy (the Chhota Bheem memes, for instance). Mayawati’s image is repeatedly at the receiving end of insults that reference histories of violence on Dalit women’s bodies. And Mamata is shunned, in a barely veiled way as being not a ‘bhadramahila’. The bodies of these various leaders draw upon (and constitute) gendered and sexualised notions of virtue and power. The relationship with the figure of the leader is thus, in a sense ‘Erotic’. The story gets more complicated when we recognise a distinctly upper caste, heterosexual figure of Bharat Mata being drawn into the fray.
We also live in a time when the circulation of the visual has intensified, through the proliferation of mobile phones and the internet, the organisation of propaganda machineries (such as click farms, fake news and troll armies) and paid news channels on TV. The image, in various forms, has become central to the ways in which the Leaders have come to be understood, revered and hated. It is in this context that we seek to bring together creative visual art to play with these images, build on them, strip them off their sheen, put them beside other images and objects, all this to gain insight into the complexities of the ‘Erotics of the Leader’. We are looking for co-conspirators to think and work with photographs, graphic images, memes, boomerangs, videos, gifs, paintings, combinations of these and other visual forms we might not have yet imagined. Is this you?
If you are interested, Queer, and have an idea that might go well with this project, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief description of yourself and your work, and a couple of paragraph’s worth of description of your idea. Or images, or other form. Your idea could relate to a particular living leader (for instance Yogi Adityanath, Kejriwal, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sushma Swaraj, Irom Sharmila, Jignesh Mewani, Chandrashekhar Azad Rawan, Owaisi, and of course Modi), an emergent student leader (such as Rahul Sonpimple, Shehla Rashid, Kanhaiya Kumar, Satendra Awana) or passed, but visually iconic in the contemporary moment (for instance, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule, Indira Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Bal Thackeray, Rohith Vemula, Phoolan Devi). A panel will go through these expressions of interest and choose upto 5 folk to join the project as collaborators. We’ll then have a little workshop (at our costs) to think together and work through the details of the contributions. We’ll then go about doing the research and art for the contributions (supported by a small honorarium that we can afford).
We’re hoping to have a range of different figures taken up by different collaborators, and then to create a juxtaposition of the contributions in interesting ways. The idea is to curate an exhibition that is mobile in various spaces and forms, and which help us open up questions of politics, gender and the sexual. Resources willing, we hope to bring contributions of those not invited as collaborators to a broader exhibition later.
The project itself is one part of a far larger collective work looking at discrimination relating to non-normative genders and sexualities, housed at the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai which is a team of academics/activists (spread across Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai) exploring different senses of discrimination across various registers.
So do get in touch with us at email@example.com by 21st of July 2017! (Also with questions and clarifications.)
Love and Rage,
Akhil Kang and akshay khanna