Performing the Shameless
Ali Asgar, a young proponent in the field of performance art that is slowly pushing inroads into Bangladesh mainstream art conventions, seems to have assigned himself a mission to awaken a flinching, squeamish public to the reality of the forbidden counter-cultural of (mis)appearances of corporeal sexuality. This is a mission to also cause a rupture into the unquestioning acceptance of heterocentric gender valences. Ali probes/scratches the surface of the mantle of subjecthood that bears the marks of a dehumanizing pathologization of sexuality with his simple yet pertinent (though feeble) art- intervention. He wants to be one and the other too, fluidly passing between constructs of gender formations. He disclaims what he appears to claim, he flaunts his masculinity or its recognizable visible signs to preponderate social feminine gestures, and doing so undertakes to overturn the encrypted nomenclature that imprisons humans in dingy dungeons of identity.
In his performance series Shameless Ali enacts the im-performability, albeit inadvertently, of gender as situated within constructed and construed boundaries. 'Seeing' his performative critique of the gendered social/cultural presumptions, one is made aware of his/her own perceptual filter that often runs counter to conceals the 'truth' of the very performitivity of one's gendered existence. His performance does not seek refuge to metaphors to and present the un-(re)presentable, the gestural/attitudinal cornucopia seems to be drawn from recurrent images in the known cultural purview of the 'othered' sex/es. He dealt his hand safe, refraining from calling a bluff. However, there have been moments of charged anticipation. Especially, when he blows the (cautionary) whistle, almost like the 'insider' with an insight into the follies of social injustice. However, one cannot be mindless to the subtle strain almost imperceptible in his acts that lies in wait for that fleeting moment when it is the most lucid, to flare up, moments when a synchrony between counter-acting energies flash through an intensified sense of presence, when the body of the performer disappears to bring to life an disembodied self, a 'being', an existence, authentic, caught in the glint of his eyes, in a moment of stunned silence (amidst the continuous drone of the accompanying sound), when the audience perceives and become complicit in the shifting choreography of essential nuances that are neither this nor that but simply is. When gazes from opposite directions interlock and transcend into a heightened awareness of each other. In that hushed silence the 'truth' about the subject finds release.
This is, however, a transitory state of being, which the artist, by means of a prevaricated narrative/script attempted to don in a theatrical assemblage of sound, prop, costume. He staged his appearance sheathed in fishnet stockings and a golden cape upon a mirror that becomes his sanctuary, a space marked out from the rest for a performance that seems more self-conscious than self-reflexive. With a flaming red lipstick he scrawls, 'Don't be a drag, be a queen' on the reflective surface that also bore the upended text pronouncing a mother's shame over a son's extra-normative orientation. The letters drip as if from an unrequited wound. The mirror becomes a portal where specular signs/texts intersect each other in a pool of spectacles, more or less hyper-transparent. Ali writes his own stigmata, a cross over his heart, on his body, an apologia, an involuntary submission to the aporia of gender identity. The clutter of familiar artifice/gestures ensconced him more and more irretrievably into the role of a foot-dragging queen. It did not help when he spewed out bite-ful of apples from his covered/unseen mouth. Ali's use of multiple media, surfaces that refract images colluding to a single narrative, that of a body entrapped in an aspiration to locate itself in a 'non-binary zone', was self-defeating. Resistant to settling for the cushy terminus of gender parity Ali attempts to 'will' his way to the imaginary of a gender free articulation of the self, or dare we say the unconscious. His acts instead of being transitive/agential in essence, become a parody of shifting selves. In which every moment of revelation repeatedly seizes upon a 'hyperbolic' gesture of embodying signifiers of known gender benders with little or no visible (or, otherwise) efforts towards in-signification.
As and when he plods meditatively, cloaked in a train of black fabric, over the shrapnel of shattered mirror, does one become slowly sensitized to the silent agony emitting from the existential quandary of a social 'outcast', it is here that Ali's moment of truth gets written on a body that reclaims itself in a shared space of mutual recognition of selves. This is the juncture from where he is able to point beyond all corporeal narratives, where no identity remains self-evident or at the best presupposes each other through the liminality of absence.
Shameless is a cry (however feeble) for freedom against the force that bulldozes differences, equalizes diversity, gags voices, and thus raises an army of 'subjects' straitlaced into so many 'stigmas' of identity. It might also be seen as a polemically subversive act/event that created an alternative space, a window into (un)contested possibilities in the temporality of a context that is yet to lend itself outside its comfort zone to reckon with that which tugs at the fringes of conventionality, menacing and disruptive, and moreover, expressive of the desiring body that takes 'freedom' as its point of departure.
'Shameless: A Performance Art Project by Ali Asgar' ran its course at EMK Center from 28th through 29th February, 2016.