Just a snippet of the current drawing project to celebrate Bangladeshi queer, gay men. The project is to compliment Pride Month, and being mindful of the pandemic, the sitters are posing currently via video calls, they are both A4 sketch book size, and larger A2 size hand made paper drawings, with soft pastels, oil pastels, and a digital overlay of the celebrated Jamdani motif’s of Bangladesh.
We’ve had some lovely conversations. More to come of course, and will likely expand on the series with other people, over time.
The project is partially inspired from the figure paintings by S M Sultan, Egon Schiele, Barkley L Hendricks & a few others.
It’s Wednesday 3rd June, coming to 8pm. I’ve just had another day, perhaps the 7th or 8th day of internal restlessness. Am here in Dhaka, reading and seeing, hearing whats happening in the USA. Another murder of an innocent black man, George Floyd, by the police, in an absolutely inhumane way and the countless undocumented crimes against others. Following my consumption of news via digital newspapers and my Twitter feed full of queer activists, artists and academics. I muse at the interesting Triple-A cohort, this has been both important and soul drenching and I thought to consolidate some of this on to here. As social media news is so fast, fleeting and moving at record speed. The COVID-19 pandemic still looms large and Dhaka along with the rest of Bangladesh has taken lockdown off. Public buses have become mobile again, but likely without much protections in place. Lets hope the numbers here dont spike, and today, we also heard of the first Covid-19 related death in one of the Rohingya camps. What a week.
Am tired. This is why I thought to reflect on this. There has been, thankfully, fantastic outpouring of activism, with people-led journalism at the heart, with many many people sharing, reading, watching whats happening. As the protests continue on in the USA, and spill elsewhere. Am dumping various links, thoughts, and will come back to this over the weekend to add to it. It is always important to understand how protests are framed and reframed, and why its crucial to remain vigilant, to stay true to the purpose of peaceful, non-violent protests, and to avoid getting entrenched into police tactics.
‘After all, the disproportionate killing of black people at the hands of the police or civilians did not begin in 2020. When Trayvon Martin’s killer went free in 2013, and the Black Lives Matter founders tweeted the hashtag that would reverberate around the world, they were not just calling out the injustice of one case – but rather centuries of injustice of and dehumanisation of black people.’ Layla F Saad. provides some books to go read ( perhaps books that need to be within our primary and secondary level education )
Am also attaching this music video by Swiss do watch; ‘After originally releasing the song back in 2014 after the police murder of Eric Garner, British rap vet Swiss‘ “Can’t Breathe” still holds the same importance today, with reimagined visuals being released following the murder of George Floyd. Swiss’ political pen game is sharp, expressing his honest views on the long-standing issue of police brutality against black people.’ Full article link
Over the past few days, I have been thinking acutely about the few times when racist attacks on me have taken place. I have experiences as a brown Bangladeshi boy growing up in the North East of England in the 90s, that I have buried deep and also I have left far away. I remember still the set of white siblings; known as the ‘Royals”, that were bullies and racists, and I came across one of them after school once on a long route back home. There were times when going home from school was shit scary. There were a few times violence took place. After 9/11 our school and way of life had been severely impacted. There were times when knives, glass bottles, and beyond have been involved – There were times when racist thugs attacked or erupted in various family restaurants. This seems SO far away now. I am currently in Dhaka. Yet, I know my dad, his brother and cousins, my siblings and extended members of family and friends have experienced racism in the UK from the 60s onwards when they migrated, one by one. The role of the British Empire and other colonising Europeans role in the pillaging of Bengal, and South Asia, Africa, Americas and beyond, is is scantily taught in UK education systems, I know little of the East India company and its role in Bengal, and all of it mostly from community-led history projects (www.bricklanecircle.org) & its hard to access well researched evidence still yet and I learned nothing about it whilst in the UK education system – not at primary, secondary or in sixth form. There was research recently done, Al-Jazeera here is a link: And a Guardian article.
It is also currently the month of Pride; now seen as a moment to celebrate LGBTQ+ lives, however in 1969; an uprising took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. As it was raided by the police in the early hours, three nights of unrest followed, with LGBT people, long frustrated by police brutality, finally fighting back. Lesbians and trans women of colour were some of the key people involved in the act of resistance, including Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.
I am not black. This is important to reflect on. Yes, I have suffered racism, however, and crucially, at this point going forward, I still have privilege; and there needs to be a fundamental engagement with the politics of the black community as best I can as an ally; here is a link to what ally-ship could be about I look to the racism towards the black community that continues to exist within my immediate Bangladeshi community – where the fairness of our skin is both a hot topic for partnerships in marriage proposals etc, and caste-ism culture with the wider South Asian community. It exists within my own family too, only today I spoke to my homophobic older sister for the first time over a year, for her to mention that my younger brother’s first daughter, Eliza, was dark like me, she acknowledged that she shouldn’t say these things, maybe. I told her off and said she needs to do better. I need to do better.
I’ve had a few selective, short discussions with other people, and looking to position myself and my politics as transparently as possible, and want to continue them, embedded in human rights, social justice and collaboration. There is a LOT of labour involved in attempting to even think about how to go and dismantle the way other people exercise their white, or south asian privilege. This labour is exhausting. I am seeing a few friends who have dedicated their time to this cause. It’s traumatising to see the attacks, the faux fragility, the reactionary responses. I am a pragmatist; there are catalytic moments that can inspire change. As a side; in Bangladesh we are currently crippled with the horrific Digital Security Act 2018, which has made it near impossible to critique or comment on the government or its associates, without the risk of jail. Here is a critique of this. from Article-19.org
I have reflected on my own actions and inactions over the years, through this blog, with this particular moment being no different. Taking a moment to take stock of the shock of trauma, of witnessing online, a murder of a black man. The continued playing of this, and the point of reflection for me; is also this quote being shared of Martin Luther King Jr; who also was killed by a white man. I read Malcolm X’s autobiography possibly when I was 18/19 and at university. It was perhaps the book that I would recommend to everyone to read, if there was a list of books that they had to read. I watched ’13th’ on Netflix, which talked immensely on how some policies are made in the US, and the prison system.
In the current protests, there has been some powerful, eloquent speeches. This is two that I found powerful, engaging and clear. Along with that: Dr Cornel West’s article in the Guardian:
Having engaged with the social media in the last few days; it seems there IS a lot we can do, if we choose to. This blog post is a critique is on my actions, and it’s not my position to tell you how to be an ally, or how to support, or how to go about educating yourself about all of this. Am still making sense of it all myself. My only suggestion would be to acknowledge our privileges, and take time to critically self-reflect. Any search engine on the internet will now provide so many wonderful web pages of resources, of people and organisations doing amazing things towards ending racism. I realise this isn’t exhaustive at all to some extent, nor concise. There are clearly things that are interrelated, and I hope the various links, videos, webs, pdfs etc. provide starting points to reflect on critique our roles as non-black people in the journey to achieve equality and justice for black lives.
Here are some links: These are by no means exhaustive, and currently, the need to support Bail campaigns is fundamental, along with accurate, evidenced journalism; this is taking place across platforms, as well as existing news broadcasting channels. Be critical of what you read, see, and hear, always. If you go out to protest, please be safe, follow Public Health guidelines in your country.
A short documentary film on the Black Lives Matter movement on Youtube ( 38 minutes & really important to watch to understand the movements’ roots. ) Here
Continuing on my thread of meditations on body, love, and beyond. It dawns on me the need to unravel my mind a bit, too. The image above helps me to ground some ideas about the mythical, shifting nature of my body, the elements that comprise of my race, and the lived and inherited shame. I may come back to revise some of this, it seems a bit clunky still, also.
My identity, one that intersects across a Male, Queer, British Bangla diaspora, of Muslim heritage, but now relatively agnostic / atheist.. is one that envelopes the feeling of being a minority, but also a majority in some junctions of my identity when I am in Bangladesh – and partially of the male, Bengali patriarchy. It is complex, as drifting from space to space, can and does mean so many different things, especially in how the body is interpreted. What is important to acknowledge though, in the not being fully one identity, my identity of fragments, also make me who I am.
A slight diversion; Shame, is about that societal, collective shame that I was raised in, that shame which exists to belittle or deny our right to be. In this instance, shame is a lingering, passive aggressor, it creeps on me. I dare not share for shame, for what that shame means to me, is not important – what it is, is a collective angst towards conforming to societal norms. What other people think accordingly has been a mantra I’v grown up around, and have sometimes vehemently rejected. Yet, my protest or rejection to deny shame its grip on my mind and body, on my ability to love and be loved is not so violent. It erupts, in fragments, and especially in conversations. So, I reflect on this, in other readings, in my art, in references to concepts of self-care, in conversations with friends, in understanding trauma(s) that I have experienced over time, finding coping mechanisms that work for me. But also, sharing. In the leaving of religion, there is shame. In the declaration of sexuality, there is shame. In the calling out of abuse, naming the abuser, there is shame. Shame envelopes entire beings, it can rip at the core of our self in ways that is impossible to see, witness, or bare.
It is this, that forces me to often come back to self portraits, in this instance, in turning the camera on my self, I am at once being narcissistic, and at the other, allowing myself to be vulnerable, to be objectified, which becomes a safe space, but also to be potentially fetishised. In the various sub-cultures that I occupy, one straddled across queer, diaspora landscapes, of the UK, of hints of BDSM, and beyond. Of course, it seems I am also unable to call shame out, to destroy its structural grip on my self. So I resort to this making of art and an attempt to write about it as a reflection instead on self-love. IF I am to put my previous meditation on queer love, namely; the pursuit, the anticipation and the emancipation of self-love. What would it mean? Straddled with the phenomena of how I articulate my self to the outside world, physically, visibly. Does this being need to pursue to self love? It comes pre-loaded with shame. The pursuit is one am uncomfortable with. Why? because it means acknowledging and loving parts of the self that are filled with fault, that carry shame. Those experiences have specific traumatic blots on the mind. The pursuit of self love is riddled with challenges. Yet, there IS a pursuit. This somehow is also comforting. That am willing to pursue self love, perhaps at a cost? Perhaps meekishly at first, unsure about the approach. Yet, it is there.
In critiquing my self, in best a form I can, through art, through reflexive writing, I conjure up fantasies of my self, this miraculous, wonderful and somewhat Bangladeshi vessel that had wants and desires that cannot be fully expressed. Until they are. This seems always momentary. The forgetting of, rather than moving on from, shame. The pursuit of clarity, of clarifying how self love sits, within the wider acknowledgements of different loves.
The shame, which has seemed relatively permanent, has required constant unworking. And in the past few years of pushing my limits in exploring, willingly challenging those pillars that were steadfastly grounded as shame. Through arguments and confrontations with my self, with others, in re-presentations and conversations, here I am. Not so vulnerable, yet, the self love, the pursuit of it, is quite real. There is a fear to self love too. I can anecdotally reflect back to childhood. Childhood, where we first learn to do all the things we do for the rest of our lives. In this childhood, shame is also a pillar. In watching, seeing, hearing and not understanding then, what this idea of shame was, embedded deep into a subconsciousness that can turn to self-hate in the future, even in the present, and beyond. How to anticipate self-love? It seems like an elastic band at times, pushing it to its limit, and just like that, am snapped back to a different point of shame.
In anticipation of self-love, I reflect on the various moments I have taken to journal, offline, to read, to draw, and explore through my thoughts. The most privilege of things, is time, to be able to reflect. The time it has taken to undo the deep rooted concepts of shame. The time it will take to continue undoing. In liberating my self, especially the body, through self-love, in anticipating it as a truth to my self, there is something being nurtured. This enamoured emancipation towards self love can occur, in fleeting moments.
The body, becomes something to learn from, it teaches me what my mind cannot, what literature, and theory cannot. It teaches me, that what I see in the mirror, is real. The camera, however can play tricks, I can play with lighting, I distort the reality. I come with a tainted identity it seems. This taint, impacts the anticipation of self-love.
So rather, this idea of acknowledgement of the lived experience, this current time, space and place creates a certain environment for me to reflect. This moment, affords me to critique a past body that I have also lived in. The body becomes an important part of the path to self-love for me, because it is the only body that I live with. It was, and is interesting to reflect on where I have come to, so far. So is it about forgiveness also? Do I need to think about how to treat past experiences better? There is no escaping some of them, they will regurgitate in dreams and reflections over time, and again.
To conclude then, this encapsulates, for me, a queering of self love too, of revealing me to myself, my ability to think about and beyond this. In thinking about the body, further, deeper, politicised somewhat now, because of its queerness and it sits there, unknown. Its ability to explore and push fetishes, boundaries and pursue ideas that I maybe uncomfortable with. This self love, of this body, is critical too. I dont occupy one particular community, nor do I feel like I belong to one. What I do have, is friends and family that I care about, and that I hope care about me. Here I am, writing, exploring, and attempting make sense of a journey towards self love. It has helped, to create mechanisms to cope, when that love is not offered. OR yet to be offered. Its a strange feeling, awaiting to acknowledge love for your self. Yet, it is this balancing, this deliberate play of mind and body that flickers between real and dream.
I’d just had a very brief exchange of texts with a friend, on our joint appreciation of Italo Calvino’s The Invisible City. And just like that, I’d felt the desire to reflect and meditate on love. Some more context needed perhaps? *We are amidst the most important historical phenomena to exist in our lifetime so far – the COVID19 Pandemic, so reflecting on an aspect of love, not all of love, by any means – but also, no more context than that.
I’ve come back and forth on this, perhaps in the blog a few times too. I’d have to scroll to find them -not now but I’ll reference them sometime. Today, it still dawns on me how difficult it is to put into words this phenomena, this thing called love. My approach has often been quite arbitrary, taking elements of my readings in the past that explored the concept through more philosophical lens. And just my experiences, as I’ve journaled, reflected and had many diverse conversations about. In falling in love, in being in love, in falling out of love, in the love that seems to be changing. In its multiple facets, it is embedded in darkness and its lightness. In the pursuit of love, in the anticipation of love, in the emancipation and being in love, that love conjures up.
In the pursuit of love, one gets lost, I get lost, its frenetic, its charged, its every last moment, every possible breath, the pursuit to hear those words being uttered, or to express them. The fear and the adrenaline is intoxicated. In the pursuit of that queer love, that love that doesn’t fix itself in that happily ever after. That pursuit that happens over a few hours, over a few days, over months. It lingers though, the feelings, the meaning, and as I type here on the blog – up pings a message on my screen ‘ I love you’. That made me smile. HE likes it when I smile.
Yet, the pursuit, its purpose, entirely, seems to fixate on to something to chase. Chasing love. The question is not, is there more love elsewhere? but how does one differentiate that love, with this love, how does one, pursue that other love? That love thats not defined in that box of a hetero/homo, mono/poly? It’s fucking scary sometimes, that pursuit. What does it mean to expressly pursue it? In conversations about relationships, love, often is a neglected component. I’ve struggled with that, I’ve fixated on that neglect. I’ve grown up in and around relationships that have required huge sacrifices, of pain, abuse – physical, emotional, mental, and neglect, or perhaps negation of love and of tolerance. This endured tolerance as a symbol of love. I’m overly curious about that. How does one create love-relationships? What have I observed, even in my own pursuit for love, when do I stop? When do I know? This is perhaps how I am exploring a love that is queer. This defining, refining the meaning of love that is queer, this unstructured free love, this queer love that is relentlessly unwilling to be boxed.
And yet, in the anticipation of love, in receiving love, that has been much much harder to accept. It continues to be so. Those of us, raised in the ashes of trauma, in experiences beyond our control as children, are left to question the integrity of love that is offered. Question, even the very essence of it, its meaning, its purpose. Its queerness is unacceptable, its an inability to acknowledge at times, that we can, as much as we pursue love, we can, just as well receive it. Despite this reassurance, these mantras and meditations and note to selfs, these moments of solitude, in offerings of gratitude, to life, love, universe, to nature. Its still weird to hear it. This anticipation of love being offered, is just as scary now, as it was then. In not speaking about it often enough, in decluttering the language of love, I question how we move forwards.
In the emancipation that love offers, in the being. In the present time and momentary appreciation of love, I wonder again, this queer love, what have I done to deserve such emancipation? Where does this emancipation take me next? Where does the overwhelming queer love sit, in my politics, in my work, in my being? How do I absolve the pursuits, the anticipations, and unshackle myself from both? Do I need to? Is it to accept that as this love emancipates my being, it will also do the same for others? How silly of me to assume this, and not recognise the absolute privilege this is. I’d been thinking, overthinking, or reflecting, the class, race, gender, sexuality and creed or none – that exists- within how love is pursued, how it’s seen, its rejected, how love is anticipated, or never expressed or experienced, and how love does emancipate the privileged even further, it is explained and appreciated. Archived.
The pursuits, and of those that reject my love, because of my race, gender, sexuality, class, often they are interwoven into this cacophony of rejections, so why continue the pursuit? Why pursue something that may damage or hurt, especially our emotional being. In the pursuit, there is truth. In that truth, rejection, in whoever and however it is given, is taken as part of the pursuit. Its unfairness, the collateral. My privilege is to be aware of this, this pursuit that has no shame.
Yet, in anticipation, I keep surprising myself. In pushing my boundaries to receive love, from whoever, irrespective of their class, race, gender, creed, sexuality, it is still difficult to do so. It is not easy. I have created boxes of whom and where I can receive love from. I anticipate it from specific types, to unshackle that, is also a pursuit.
Do I have a conclusion to this meditation? perhaps not. As with anything related to love, its never-ending. Yet, this archiving, of love, of queer love, being done now by many, yet still not enough, globally, is shedding light in this dark queer world of love. Its emancipation will and does continue in ways that are not appreciated always by me. Yet my own emancipations continue on, I meditate and reflect on it, with fresh eyes sometimes, more often with beleaguered tired thoughts. Appreciate those who’ve read this far!
And in closing this particular set of thoughts, in Calvino’s Invisible Cities, he says ‘“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” It is this, that this idea of queer love, it is morphing, growing, dwindling, appearing and disappearing. It also means refining, not rules, but meanings of queer love and ways of expressing, pursuing, anticipating that love. A love that emancipates the being.
In the midst of the overarching self isolation, social distancing, lock down, quarantine, am blessed and very privileged to be on my own mostly. It prompted this particular conversation with my self, as I talked to various friends, lovers, others, about body hair, one that has been on going for years now. Some prefer to keep it, others like it on others but will shave their own, some trim it, some can’t live without it, and yet some, envy it as they can’t grow as much as they would like. Often, thats left to the top part of the body – facial hair, head full of hair. Every other aspect of body hair becomes quite a taboo subject. I brush on it, as there are many others who’ve explored, queried, documented and challenged it better than I am doing here, maybe. Its mostly about self worth though, and self love, for me.
My reflection really is that, to embrace a big aspect of my truth, body hair was something that was used to make me feel shit. In the years of puberty, I’d grown hair, thick, curly, black hair, on legs, armpits, elsewhere. This was a point of ridicule in school and often in the playgrounds- perhaps I was saved a lot of that ridicule because I was unable to fathom I was being picked upon, or had an actual response to the insults, and as religions had their own set of rules to follow regarding body hair for men, there was attempts to then remove, trim, hide it. It left me, as a grown up 20 something year old, being confused about what to do with all this hair. And in the end, I decided to just let it grow.
There are moments, especially with new encounters with a potential lover, that the negotiation of hair ( armpit, pubes, chest, face ) become a point of contention. Do I give in to that one momentary lust filled desire to pursue, and shave them off, and have a new adventure? Then, who have I become? In challenging my own perception of my self, in learning to accept aspects of me, hair, becomes a significant fragment. One that seems to be loaded with so many different opinions – all of which are perhaps equally valid. So why do I care to write about it here? Accept me with the hair that I have, although seems inconsequential, it helps to define a clear boundary about bodies. Especially how I feel about my own body.
I write about it, now, partially because am continually curious about the way people perceive me, the fetishisation of my skin colour in the UK ( there has been enough chat up lines that started with, ‘I love your skin colour’ and especially south asians’ which made me feel orientally objectified ), and a counter to that – the disgust of my body hair in Bangladesh from some ( ‘It’s gross that you have all that hair everywhere’, I have been blocked and I have had to block sometimes ) – of course some generalisations, but there have been more than enough conversations in both those spaces ( UK, Bangladesh ) about different aspects of me that people have perceived opinions on and challenged me or insulted me about. I won’t pretend there hasn’t been abusive conversations in relation to my body hair. My last encounter / conversation with a young man in Bangladesh involved this issue – petered around the issue of cleanliness and hygiene and length of body hair, and that the ‘locals’ here ( Bangladeshi ) are not clean and why often only engaged with foreigners. There is so much to unpack in that, but I am not their therapist, nor here to listen endlessly to drivel. There is more to say on this, but perhaps I will write another post about that later.