Hijra Fantasy Series  

In this photographic series, the participant-performers from the video “What are You?” step out of the moving image into fantastical still frames where their desired self-representation is enacted. The artist in conversation with her protagonists sets up an ideal world, playfully turning the imagined into a reality.

"I started this body of work thinking about queer lives in the Indian context. Between 2005-6, I was very lucky to work with the hijra (MTF transsexual) community from Bombay and Bangalore, both collaboratively with other artists, as well as alone. In some sense, for many of us (LGBTQI 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 of how they saw themselves in a utopian world. What would they be if they had the choice to be whatever they wished to be?”

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/Burned on the water, archival digital photograph on photo paper, 96.5 X 147 cm
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 as I could in this contemporary, queer and Indian version of Cleopatra.

You too can touch the moon - Yashoda with Krishna, archival digital photograph on rag paper, 147 X 96.5 cm
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 use Raja Ravi Varma’s painting 'Yashoda with Krishna' as a reference point of departure for this image. It is 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 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 details for this series. The opulence of the chosen reference also helps to transcend the class hierarchies that prevent hijras from moving into any position of power or privilege and transgressing class barriers, even if momentarily.

Southern Siren - Maheshwari, archival digital photograph on rag paper, 147 X 96.5 cm
Maheshwari is a hijra identified woman. I met her in Bombay during my research. 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 in return.
Love for love. The simple human quest, forms a recurring theme in a lot of hijra narratives. Just before our shoot, Maheshwari was visiting her family in Andhra Pradesh. When I met her upon her return, she was wearing an awkward, makeshift bandana made out of a dupatta. Her brother had chopped off her luscious, long hair while she was asleep...

© Tejal Shah 2005