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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Tejal Shah

Bombay,
India

Shah is a visual artist who works with video, photography, sound, installation and performance. Her interests lie in the areas of sexuality, gender, disabilities and the interrelation between humans and nature. In 2003, she co-founded Larzish—India’s first international film festival of sexuality and gender plurality and in 2006, she had her first solo show “What are You?” in India and the USA.

Shah was born in Bhilai (central India), graduated with a B.A. in commercial and illustrative photography from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (2000), and was a visiting scholar at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1999-2000). Currently, she lives and works in Bombay, India.

Shah is a featured artist in Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museum, curated by Maura Reilly and Linda Nochlin.

Feminist Artist Statement

Feminism changed my life.

It opened up many different worlds to me, giving me the ability to question truth and history.

<p>The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/Burned on the water (from the hijra fantasy series)</p>

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/Burned on the water (from the hijra fantasy series)

I started this body of work thinking about queer lives in the Indian context. For the last two years I have been working with the hijra (MTF transsexual) community from Bombay and Bangalore. In some sense, for many of us (LGBTQ people), our desires are lived in the realm of fantasy or hidden from the public eye. I wanted to breathe life into some of these fantasies. I started to speak with individuals, with whom i had developed a close relationship, about their desires and how they saw themselves in a fantastic world. What would they be if they had the choice to be whatever they wished to be? This is a photograph of Laxmi, a very well known hijra, human rights activist based in Bombay. Laxmi is obsessed with Cleopatra and expressed the wish to become her. Extended conversations and research preceded the conceiving of this image. I have tired to retain as much of Laxmi’s personality in this contemporary, queer and Indian version of Cleopatra.

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/Burned on the water (from the hijra fantasy series)

I started this body of work thinking about queer lives in the Indian context. For the last two years I have been working with the hijra (MTF transsexual) community from Bombay and Bangalore. In some sense, for many of us (LGBTQ people), our desires are lived in the realm of fantasy or hidden from the public eye. I wanted to breathe life into some of these fantasies. I started to speak with individuals, with whom i had developed a close relationship, about their desires and how they saw themselves in a fantastic world. What would they be if they had the choice to be whatever they wished to be? This is a photograph of Laxmi, a very well known hijra, human rights activist based in Bombay. Laxmi is obsessed with Cleopatra and expressed the wish to become her. Extended conversations and research preceded the conceiving of this image. I have tired to retain as much of Laxmi’s personality in this contemporary, queer and Indian version of Cleopatra.

You too can touch the moon – Yashoda with Krishna (from the hijra fantasy series)

This is a portrait of Malini. She expressed the desire to be a mother. “I want to point to the moon and tell my child that s/he too can reach out and touch the moon”. I decided to base this image on a Raja Ravi Varma painting titled ‘Yashoda with Krishna’. The reason i choose Varma’s painting as a reference point of departure is because it is an uncontested fact—and an irony of history—that the problematic utopian vision infusing these paintings became emblematic of colonial India’s fraught modernity. This photo-fantasy of Malini is clearly meant to function as a perverse “queering” of Ravi Varma’s mythological pictures, and of the colonial history that produced them. I paid a lot of attention to art direction, casting, lighting and detailing in general for this series. The opulence of the chosen reference also helps to transcend the class heirarchies that prevent hijras from moving into any positions of power or privilege.

Southern Siren - Maheshwari (from the hijra fantasy series)

Maheshwari is a hijra identified woman. I met her in Bombay during my research on hijra’s while working on the project, “What are You?” I was struck by her loud laughter, sense of fantasy and belief in magic. Her desire was to become a south Indian film star and see herself in a song and dance sequence, romancing the hero and to be romanced by him.

Encounter(s), live performance, Turbine Hall, TATE Modern

Swathed in a shell of white embroidered fabric, two bodies wrap themselves to an urban landscape in shape with the architecture. The straitjacket exoskeleton joined at the arms forms an outstretched bridge to span the distance between being connected and being able to touch.

Tejal Shah (Bombay) and Varsha Nair (Bangkok) shared via email the experience of the edge within everyday normality and loneliness within the teeming cities they live in. Presenting their interactions in various locations, in these meditations they create a durational tableau vivant responding immediately to spaces they encounter.

Photo by Elsa Hsiang-chun Chen

Encounter(s)

Swathed in a shell of white embroidered fabric, two bodies wrap themselves to an urban landscape in shape with the architecture. The straitjacket exoskeleton joined at the arms forms an outstretched bridge to span the distance between being connected and being able to touch. Tejal Shah (Bombay) and Varsha Nair (Bangkok) shared via email the experience of the edge within everyday normality and loneliness within the teeming cities they live in. Presenting their interactions in various locations, in these meditations they create a durational tableau vivant responding immediately to spaces they encounter. Photo by Silvia Pastore

Encounter(s)

Swathed in a shell of white embroidered fabric, two bodies wrap themselves to an urban landscape in shape with the architecture. The straitjacket exoskeleton joined at the arms forms an outstretched bridge to span the distance between being connected and being able to touch. Tejal Shah (Bombay) and Varsha Nair (Bangkok) shared via email the experience of the edge within everyday normality and loneliness within the teeming cities they live in. Presenting their interactions in various locations, in these meditations they create a durational tableau vivant responding immediately to spaces they encounter. Photo by Silvia Pastore

Back to Front III

This image is part of a series of 3 images taken in a field near railway tracks with a friend of mine who was a closet cross-dresser. Afraid of societal ridicule, he had never shared his secret with anyone. This was the first time he walked the streets in drag in the dead of the night. The experience for him was like going to the Front. Me? I had a niggling feeling that my friend might have something to share with me and so I pursued. Funnily, he was the one who dressed me as a drag king for the first time in my life!

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