[Photographs provided by Durga Gawde]
6th September 2018 marked a historic moment for the LGBTQIA community in India when the Supreme Court struck down the draconian section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised homosexual activity (among other ‘carnal’ intercourse). The verdict was a great moment of celebration for all. However, it is important to remember that the fight is still not over. This is not the time to sit back, relax and be complacent, but rather take the debate forward. While the tag of being a criminal has been lifted off the members of the community, there still is a need for acceptance in terms of marriage laws, and adoption laws, before we can claim to be a truly liberated country. The repeal does not change much for the community on a personal, professional or social level in a country where attitudes need to change. Of course, this does not mean that we don’t celebrate the moment, but that we consciously and continuously make efforts to create a more tolerant and inclusive society. Our struggle did not end in the courtrooms; it continues in our homes, offices and every other private and public space we are a part of.
This is exactly why this year’s Lakme fashion week’s effort at showcasing inclusivity through their #GenderBender segment must be applauded. ‘The Studio’ was divided into four parts, and each part was given to a designer who used the space to put up live installations: Anaam, The Pot Plant, Bobo Calcutta and, Bloni. The show was an effort to show real people of various shapes, sizes and identities under one roof silently interacting with each other. Sumiran Kabir Sharma for his label ‘Anaam’ put forward a collection titled ‘Behrupiya,’ meaning many forms. Both, Akshat Bansal’s ‘Bloni’ label and Sanya Suri and Resham Karmchandani from The Pot Plant looked at gender fluidity through the lens of sustainability through their collection. Ayushman Mitra’s ‘Bobo Calcutta’ brand put forward a collection titled, ‘Ludicrous Legacy’ was an effort at celebrating strangeness, by using layers of hand embroidery that was inspired by the post-modernist Japanese colours and silhouettes.
We spoke to Durga Gawde, a gender fluid sculptor and artist, who was also one of the models for Ayushman Mitra. For Gawde, being part of #GenderBender has a specific purpose. They believe that fashion influences gender expression and a clear understanding of gender expression comes from a clear understanding of gender identity. Being a genderfluid person, their work revolves around making sure there is representation for non-binary identities and breaking down rigid boundaries set by society. “One of Ayushman’s dear friends had directed this video with me for his Youtube channel called Vitamin Stree on gender fluidity. Ayushman, who watched the video, liked how I had articulated my thoughts on fluidity, contacted me because he wanted me to be a part of his installation,” shares Durga when asked about how they came to be a part of the show.
The concept that drove the show was that of inclusivity. It was not only about having queer people on board, but about having people, all kinds of people just working together. There were queer people, straight people, models and non-models, all together, silently intermingling with each other through their bodies and eyes. The idea was to explore the tension then and there. It was about sensuality, being open to another person’s touch, albeit a stranger, but trusting them anyway. It was on some level a metaphor for what the world should be.
“We got in touch about two weeks before the show and he showed me his work. They were just so beautiful, colourful and genderless. He had a concept in mind, but that evolved over time to become what we created. There were three white blank canvases in an enclosed space. He used charcoal to draw in it. I was in a bathtub, while the others circled around me, while we just intermingled with each other,” they say while explaining the process of putting together the show. “It was so powerful. There was so much tension, but at the same time there was so much ease and comfort between us. It was, of course, difficult being in a bathtub for an hour,” they add with a chuckle.
Did the Lakme Fashion Week manage to achieve some level of inclusivity? It is a tough question. Apart from the #GenderBender show, the Chola show worked on the idea of inclusivity. Queer culture is very diverse, and the two shows really tried to capture its spirit. It definitely was a step towards the right direction, but it is only the beginning.