Queer Lives, Queer Baithak

It’s been a while since my last blogpost. The past year and half has seen many changes to my professional and personal circumstances. In the current pandemic and amidst heightened academic and domestic care work, however, when I received an invitation from Naveen Bagalkot (Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology + Design Beku, Bangalore) to read and lead a discussion at an online Design Baithak, I felt a renewed sense of excitement to connect with a wider group of students, early career researchers, design professionals, and other queers from around the country. An initiative of Ahmed Ansari (NYU), the conception and format of a baithak draws from the Urdu word “baithna” or “to sit,” often with “poetry, music, discussion, and debate” in the evenings. Beyond the cis-male centeredness of a traditional baithak, this baithak series makes public a range of bodies, perspectives, collaborations, and performances connected to design fields. My gratitude to both Naveen and Padmini Ray Murray of Design Beku as well as to Ahmed Ansari for this space and opportunity.

In thinking through ways to participate in the program in pandemic times, I couldn’t help but ask my queer self what would be a home for next week’s baithak? Or, what about this baithak might make me and my queer kin feel at home? Or, whose homes and lives as a method might this baithak illuminate?

“Queer Lives, Queer Baithak” is the title of my session, scheduled for Friday, September 11, 2020 from 6:00-7:30 PM (IST). I’ve selected three texts to help us reflect on: 1) norms and epistemologies that academic disciplines (most certainly design disciplines) often reproduce; and 2) how might queer lives, desires, and inquiries trouble or even activate some of these norms and epistemologies. Together, I hope these selections help us name and hold space for material and affective intimacies within the otherwise formal expressions of a baithak. Please visit the Design Baithak website to access the following readings and meeting link as soon as they are available.

Manalansan IV, Martin F., “The ‘Stuff’ of Archives: Mess, Migration, and Queer Lives,” Radical History Review 2014.120, (2014), 94-107.
The essay by Martin F. Manalansan IV invites us to engage with the materialities of undocumented queer immigrants’ households in New York City; to reconsider the conditionings and taxonomies of order, hygiene, and even citizenship in discourses on design, domesticity, and the archive. We will sit with the “stuff” that could make a queer household an archive, in Manalansan’s words, “objects, bodies, narratives, and desires” to discuss our assumptions and ideas of queer homes and queer archives. Many thanks to Bo Ruberg and Jamie Howe for facilitating close engagements with this text last summer.

Alvi, Asad, “La pulsion de mort,” in The World That Belongs to Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia, eds. Aditi Angiras and Akhil Katyal (HarperCollins Publishers India, 2020), 1-2.
Asad Alvi’s poem touched me when I first read it this summer. Thinking with Faiz’s “ab yahan koi nahin koi nahin aa.ega,” I couldn’t move past their emphasis on “yahan” — perhaps a place, a location, a marker, or a body, or all of these things, but also a desire for and liberation from each of them — a notion of home perpetually suspended. I thank Tonisha Guin from whom I learnt about this anthology long before it was published and released for and into the world.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, “Queer and Now,” in Tendencies (London: Routledge, 1994), 1-20.
In their introduction to Tendencies, Eve Sedgwick disrupts those seemingly and often assumed monoliths of “the family,” of sexuality, of queer desires, and of queerness itself towards an alternative, or an “open mesh of possibilities” with which to challenge the heteronormative structurings of society, institutions, education, and even our quotidien being. Among the many contexts in which I’ve engaged with Sedgwick’s work, I’m particularly thinking of and thankful to Alan-Michael for his brilliant reflections on this text, for his friendship, and for just being in the world, in our queer world.

(Image: Holding a Queer Zine Table of Contents and Statement, #QueerDH Seminar and Collective led by Bo Ruberg and Jamie Howe, DHSI 2019, University of Victoria, BC)

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