Urban_Land_Scapes. Panoramas from Dhaka / Bangladesh.

Architecture, Art, Bangladesh, Dhaka, Photography, Urban

Meditations 2: On self love, body and shame.

Art, Bangladesh, community, Dhaka, Exhibition, Love, Photography, Portraits, Portraiture, Reflections, Self Portrait, Thoughts

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.

Drawings: Portraits from square sketchbook (1)

Bangladesh

Photographs: Dhaka Rickshaws

Bangladesh, Photography, Reflections, Urban, Urban issues

Meditations (1): On Queer love.

Bangladesh, Life, Love, Thoughts

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.

Here is a link to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities as a PDF : https://designopendata.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/calvino_italo_invisible_cities.pdf

Reflections: Body/Hair

Bangladesh

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.

Self Portrait (2018) After Robert Mapplethorpe

Bangladesh

Drawing Objects 3: A bunch of Bangladeshi Champa Kola ( bananas )

Art, Bangladesh, Dhaka, Drawing, Pen & Ink

Champa kola 1.jpeg

Drawing Objects 2: Phone in hand

Bangladesh

IMG_9181

Reflections. 1 April 2020

Bangladesh, Reflections

Quickly writing some thoughts. May revise / review later.

Writing, reflecting, working, in this current time has been rather difficult, for all things considered.  Hearing, reading and seeing the bravery of key workers, doctors, nurses, hospital cleaners, city cleaners, waste pickers, supermarket staff, warehouse staff, delivery people, all across the world.  I’m engrossed in keeping up to date, paranoid almost, about missing the latest updates. It reduces us down to basics. It seems an out of body experience, watching myself, watching my dreams flicker between odd memories, watching the news, watching, watching. My eyes have not been more tired. As am currently, it feels like with the rest of the world, obsessing over COVID19 updates, looking at surreal exponential graphs of death and spread that are reduced to curving lines and , without real awareness of the lives lost and the memories that can no longer made.

I wonder about friends, family and lovers am unable to meet, even across neighbourhoods, or in nearby towns or cities, or distant countries, across continents. Of the thousands of people who have passed away already, alone, or the inability of many to say goodbye properly. Am accustomed to Skype and video chats, and some of have the privilege to have those conversations online, but I also know, they never measure to the real thing. Of being with a loved one and enjoying their company, in a physical space, sharing, being.

I wonder, and am afraid, for those living now in the fear of perpetual potential violence cohabiting abusive people in their home, but now, no ways of escaping or being far away from them. Yes, overwhelmed. I wonder about people who, having left home to live their best queer lives, are perhaps locked in with homophobic family members, unable to breath, in fear of trauma, of triggered actions and detonation of mental health. I read about India’s situation and their negligent approach to shut down, leaving many thousands, if not millions stranded and no way back to villages. Of starvation. A real, wake up call to some of us not exposed to vulnerable communities in the past, but our own communities becoming fragile now.

My twitter feed is filled with both hope and tragedy. Full of wonderful news of community building, sharing, caring and supporting each other – be they queer, homeless, struggling with mental health, livelihood precariousness and beyond. Its also full of numbers, of deaths, of cases, of the exponential rise among countries, China, Italy, USA, UK, France, Iran, it grows, with no clear understanding when this pandemic will end, or whom it will spare.

Here in Bangladesh its near impossible to critique or comment usually, and in a situation where leaving the country is almost impossible for absolutely anybody due to lockdowns globally, being critical of the way government is responding to this situation is also not advised. So, we have limited cases that we know of. and few deaths that have been accounted for relating to COVID19, and we are awaiting more testing capacity in the coming weeks. It’s Overwhelming. Precisely because of the above. How do we shut off from it? we cannot. It is overwhelming. And I can only say, that it is ok to feel that overwhelming burden of responsibility, of helplessness, of anxiety.

I worry over the potential of elderly relatives contracting the virus in the UK, US, and Bangladesh. The threat is both imminent and real. At the same time, I wanted to take an hour to dump my thoughts – archive them. Journaling hasn’t helped as much, perhaps its because it seems futile.  There is despair, I accept it in moments – not in totality.

Yet, they are feeding into something that I cannot understand yet, but can perhaps recognise as being overwhelmed, anxious, scared. When news of Layli’s father contracting Covid-19, then consequently passing earlier in the week came. It hits; a friend’s father passed away from the virus that has plagued the world. I offered the very little and at the same time the most that I could of me, a text message with condolences, and that those of us in an extreme privilege are able to give away, freely, my time and willingness to listen whenever she needs or wants it.  I cannot imagine what she is going through, she has posted some thoughts on her facebook wall.  In the midst of it, her spirit shines through. I am in Dhaka, she is in London. I send what seems a norm to us all, virtual hugs.

‘I was the last family member to see him on the day he died. It was for a mere 15 minutes. How I wish I had been allowed to ruffle the few strands of hair or kiss him on his forehead just to let him know that he was loved. How I wish I had been allowed to clean his yellowing teeth or the dry skin around the corner of his eyes. I couldn’t do any of those things. I am now left with these thoughts and images, and they will never go away. I can only hope that they soften with time.

I went in wearing a mask, gloves and a flimsy apron, PPE that falls far short of WHO standards. I was willing to wear it because I desperately wanted to see my dad. But why should doctors, nurses and other NHS workers put themselves or their loved ones at risk? Their job is to save lives, not to put theirs or their loved ones at stake. This is not a war, a language and tone used by this government to cover up their immorality, irresponsibility and incompetence. This is work and we should demand decent workplace conditions for people to do their job.’ Collected from Layli’s facebook wall post, 30 March 2020.

There are no dress rehearsals for life, we are given our lot and we must do the best we can with it. There’s plenty of nitpicked quotes we can use, share, read. In times of such abject and disastrous realities, its hard to not be continually overwhelmed. Who next, when will it be over, how does the world look post covid19?

Those of us able, are doing the best possible within the means we have – its been devastating to see and read so much of the damage being done. However, this language that some politicians have adopted, of war, rings hollow. It’s another PR exercise, to build both fear, and to pretend we are all in this together. To pretend that all lives are equal after all. We are being sold a lie, as we have been for decades now, about the wonderful capitalist system, one that has been co-opted and ripped out and replaced with yucky, na, grotesquely immoral and unethical practice, on the premises of economic growth but at the cost of our own communities and nature, and more.

As we have seen, political will and mobilisation, which is aiming to aspire towards egalitarian and socially just society, often means a serious, aggressive battle. This battle, now, seems rather a bleak one in my view. Economic bailouts of large corporations, whilst many thousands lose jobs, homes, and ultimately lives, again brings to mind the pretence of equality. Many others have written great critique of the fallacy of this pretence, and many more, continue to advocate for it.

Yet, this systemic, economic, structural inequality that has plagued much of the world, shows its truth in ways most cannot imagine. The understanding of the concept of home and shelter. Of having a home to be isolated in. That home being big enough so that there is space of separation between people, especially those that may have contracted the virus. Or the insecurity of tenure that, in this current situation will become horrific for many who are unable to afford to pay rent, or to buy food, to survive due to inability to, or no work being available as they are forced to wait, as governments across the world enforce lockdowns.  To suggest to go for walks as exercise, but not having access to any public space to do so. And so it goes. Basic. Human. Rights – it seems an aggressively radical thing to aspire to.

Amidst it all, what is, and has always been true is the spirit of most humans to do good by their neighbours, their communities, to prop and support and share. In Bangladesh, many groups have been established already on facebook, there are youth movements in distribution of soaps and sanitisers, there are thousands of people volunteering to distribute emergency food parcels, basic needs etc. Many thousands more, mobilising to support where they can, with creative solutions, with innovations, with energy and spirit of caring, of listening and socialising via the various apps available to us in the internet age.

This often means very simply; accessible and universal healthcare, free education up to university, affordable and good housing for all, affordable and safe public transport systems, and commitments towards developing eco-systems that do not harm nature ( which can also be translated to going away from fossil fuel consumption and having affordable energy ) and people, those able to, working to their best ability. This is verbatim, its information that is available everywhere – from the Green New Deal, to United Nations SDGs, to various countries that do have genuinely progressive policies, that others can, should and often are not, learning from. Decentralised, local and regional development is so crucial in this, and there is so much amazingly good things happening out there.

Historians, especially those that study across centuries and millenniums, will perhaps say that the change we seek, is going to happen but in natures timescale, not human ones. Rapid development has taken place since WW2. yet, in the meanwhile, people continue to be oppressed, to suffer, to be denied basic human rights, in the name of economic progress and growth. A growth that has inherently harmed much of the planet, and its people in ways we are only beginning to see. Climate scientists are screaming and shouting for decades now, only to be told often, their science is wrong.  Even in this current situation, many climate advocates are writing and asking the simple question; why are we not taking climate change seriously still?

It often seems so simple, yet when I look at the realities – the challenges of being tactical, strategical planning and negotiations that organisations and individuals are doing to push forward progressive agendas. Navigating political arenas, it is so difficult, the positioning of evidence based policy research and strategy papers that perhaps I believe in, often does not get a shoe in. Why do we choose not to invest properly and fully in this? Why is there ideological resistance of this evidence based policy planning still? Why do we want to continue supporting, aiding perpetually unequal systems that harm the most vulnerable in society?

Questions, that have been answered well, and by many. Yet, critique of capitalism, doesn’t mean I want to over throw it. However, Social Justice does need to be at the heart of it.

A few weeks ago, I read and reviewed my youngest sister’s tax dissertation. It was interesting to both read it and perhaps, a key reminder to myself, that mainstream economic thinking for governments has always been about growth, often at any cost. However, Without real, equitable, egalitarian redistribution systems in place, the economic growth simply does not translate to a prosperous and balanced society.