Thinking Out Loud
May 01 2022
It always begins with self-prescribing, revisiting, or taking heed of recommended readings. My relationships with most texts often start by letting them collect a bit of dust on my bookshelf, my bedside, or the netherworld of digital folders titled Read Now or Read Next on my desktop. It’s quite hellish at first—an intimidating task to begin exploring the literary brawn of theory and try connecting it with the ephemeral and material-based approaches of my practice. And yet, once I begin reading and note-taking, a strange pull between the two modalities often collides in thought: a kind of mutation through connectivity? Marriage? Not sure what to call it.
All I know is that the richness that came from revisiting Sarah Ahmed last year inevitably made me consider again the spatial conditions that I wanted the textile panels in ‘Essayer (Murmuration)’ to be viewed from at the Govett-Brewster. Various site visits and conversations with Zara Stanhope urged me to consider deeply the polemic interpretations of Persian identity, questions that were crucial to migrant and queer embodiments, brimming with the material stored within (ourselves) today. Voices like Ahmed’s and Julietta Singh’s also lent me strength and broadened the scope of how identity may be represented in the exhibition at McLeavey Gallery. Similar threads inevitably connected with Fruit Cubab, my Te Tuhi billboards in Pakuranga and Parnell.
Reading becomes an arboreal activity at some point: it grows taller, broader and incites intergenerational dialogues between stems and root systems. The act sometimes urges me to have conversations beyond the grave in multiple linguistic layers, as it did for my project for the 7th edition of Colomboscope this year. Just as I was aided to think of the essay as a visual trial—a trial by flight that swung, disoriented and confused—so did Theresa Hak Kyung-Cha’s Dictee, which shatters limitations of the dominant gaze in a manner that leaves me awestruck, still.
Julietta Singh, No Archive Will Restore You, (Montréal: 3Ecologies Books, 2018)
This book came recommended to me by two wonderful individuals on different continents. Both friends were aware of the spaces from which I work, and so, each recommendation made it abundantly clear that I should consider deeper the resolving and healing of selfhoods through affectual enquiries. The strangeness of inhabiting one’s body is explored lucidly and compellingly in Singh’s prose. I found myself drawn to affect as a theoretical modality in No Archive Will Restore You, where Singh manages to elucidate her experiences of queer corporeality, phenomenology, and the dramatic pluralities we embody through an intrapersonal approach.
Archiving one’s anxieties among other stored material—all encompassed in a body while also defining it—has been a replenishing way to look at modes of understanding affect and healing. Singh began her approach to this by looking to Antonio Gramsci’s summons: to compile such an archive, with openness and clarity but also immense vulnerability where the self is rendered as both subject and object. And much like a few other texts that I’ve lately been drawn to, it bends and twists and even discourages us from believing that there is any sense of promise or resolution to be found. Healing may well have been the dreamed purpose of Singh’s exercise but the act of trying to untangle, disavow, and re-member one’s body was the process—is the process—that she hopelessly suggests we embark on.
Gayatri Gopinath, Unruly Visions: The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018)
Gayatri Gopinath claims that the ‘work and aesthetic practices [of queer diaspora], becomes the portal through which history, memory, and the process of archiving is itself reworked in order to both critique the ongoing legacies of slavery, colonialism, war and occupation and contemporary forms of racialisation, as well as to imagine alternative forms of affiliation and collectivity’. Gopinath’s text serves as a cartography of figures with samples of queer diasporic expression. From Tracey Moffatt to Akram Zaatari and Allan DeSouza, it unpacks how (our) penchant for the ‘materiality of the everyday—the small, the antimonumental, the inconsequential’, could be linked closely to endeavours which excavate the past, even a faded and nearly-erased one.
This manifests almost unremittingly for me in the form of totems and corporeal gestures—often abstract and non-linguistic—that create associations with languages and materialities that I’ve been precariously holding, investigating, and fearfully examining over (my) mark-making processes. Their enigmatic resonances persist in appearing, vanishing and reappearing, often in various iterations over the years, on the surfaces of shelves and drawers in the domestic spaces I live in between Aotearoa and India. Sometimes they arrive whole or transmuted or replicated, but almost always fragmented.
Sarah Ahmed, 'Compaint as Queer Method', 2022. From Ahmed’s blog, Feminist Killjoys
I’ve been urged by various individuals in my life to resist the urge to complain: parents, grandparents, aunties, siblings—even my partner, peers, and teachers would discourage me from complaining about a grievance, especially if it is one that may simply be based on a systemic consequence. Say, a microaggression or an imbalance in power. What’s the point? Sarah Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology (2006) revealed to many of us what the effects of disorientation are. And then her book, The Promise of Happiness (2010), contained testimonies from disenfranchised members of academic faculties fraught with misconduct.
Sara Ahmed complains. She complains so much that she wrote a new book about it as a pedagogical method and deconstructed it from the very bowels of its recipients (that act of disemboweling a turgid recipient of legitimate complaint fills me with both joy and abjection, but definitely more joy as of late). ‘Complaint as a Queer Method’ is an essay from her blog Feminist Killjoys, and it reads like a development within queer studies that illuminates an entirely refreshing and under-explored phenomenon: we all know the effects of being complained to, but who are the complainers, and why do they complain? ‘To be heard as complaining is not to be heard’ she quotes from the last chapter of her book. My copy of Complaint! is yet to arrive: I look forward to listening; perhaps even learning how to listen.
Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha, Dictee, (New York: Tanam Press, 1982)
I made a mistake a few years ago: I did not read this book. It wasn’t until halfway through my Creative Writing MA year that I encountered it. And even then, Cha wasn’t recommended to me through the auspices of that prized programme, nor did I have access to such texts at the institution I attended. Dictee bends and twists so many things: genres, formats, histories, mythologies, literary tropes and most importantly, the human tongue itself, in more than three languages. In the epilogue and contents page, Cha deliberately misquotes Sappho: ‘May I write words more naked than flesh / stronger than bone, more resilient than / sinew, sensitive than nerve’ and incorrectly names Euterpe, the Greek muse of lyric poetry, as ‘Elitere’—a name entirely made up by her with an etymology that conveys the dominant elitism of Western classicism.
I ask: what would I have written had I read more texts like Dictee in the beginning of that year? Or better yet, even before I began my limp, frustrated little manuscript? I might’ve seen more lucidly the kind of colonial structures upheld by such institutions; perhaps I might’ve been more convicted with my intent to (re)construct the intergenerational trauma in our diasporic histories with sutured breaks and fractures that spoke more confidently to a multicultural paradigm—one of many that exist beyond the institution’s dominant linguistic concerns. Or better yet, I might’ve dropped out.
About the Author
Areez Katki is based between Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, Aotearoa and Mumbai, India. His practice surveys the phenomenology of postcolonial identities, which thread through layers of archaeology, spiritual cosmologies, and their queer meanderings. Katki intuitively employs found materials, from textiles to language, embalming them with gestures that illuminate notions of hybridity from the migratory condition. Katki’s work has been published and exhibited across Aotearoa, South Asia, Europe, and North America. It is held in various private and public collections internationally.
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