art of resistance, India

Jhumpa Lahiri: Hell-Heaven (Unaccustomed Earth).

Jhumpa Lahiri has a great talent of writing genuinely, writing about everyday, writing about common, but still making it deeply revealing, interesting, and – finding wonders in it. The following is an excerpt from her short story Hell-Heaven (the story can be found in Lahiri’s collection of short stories Unaccustomed Earth). Here, once again, Lahiri deals with the experience of Indian immigrants in the USA, cutting through the delicate tissue of place and time, memory and identity.

ja/Jhumpa Lahiri, photo via media.npr.org/

He was from a wealthy family in Calcutta and had never had to do so much as pour himself a glass of water before moving to America, to study engineering at MIT. Life as a graduate student in Boston was a cruel shock, and in his first month he lost nearly twenty pounds. He had arrived in January, in the middle of a snowstorm, and at the end of the week he had packed his bags and gone to Logan, prepared to abandon the opportunity he’d worked toward all his life, only to change his mind at the last minute. He was living on Trowbridge Street in the home of a divorced woman with two young children who were always screaming and crying. He rented a room in the attic and was permitted to use the kitchen only at specified times of the day and instructed  always to wipe down the stove with Windex and a sponge. My parents agreed that it was a terrible situation, and if they’d had a bedroom to spare they would have offered it to him. Instead, they welcomed him to our meals and opened up our apartment to him at any time, and soon it was there he went between classes and on his days off, always leaving some vestige of himself: a nearly finished pack of cigarettes, a newspaper, a piece of mail he had not bothered to open, a sweater he had taken off and forgotten in the course of his stay.

I remember vividly the sound of his exuberant laughter and the sight of his lanky body slouched or sprawled on the dull, mismatched furniture that had come with our apartment. He had a striking face, with a high forehead and a thick mustache, and overgrown, untamed hair that my mother said made him look like American hippies who were everywhere in those days. His long legs jiggled rapidly up and down wherever he sat, and his elegant hands trembled when he held a cigarette between his fingers, tapping the ashes into a teacup that my mother began to set aside for this exclusive purpose. Though he was a scientist by training, there was nothing rigid or predictable or orderly about him. He always seemed to be starving, walking through the door and announcing that he hadn’t had lunch, and then he would eat ravenously, reaching behind my mother  to steal cutlets as she was frying them . before she had a chance to set them properly on a plate with red onion salad.

In private, my parents remarked that he was a brilliant student, a star at Jadavpur who had come to MIT with an impressive assistanship, but Pranab Kaku was cavallier about his classes, skipping them with frequency. ‘These Americans are learning equations I knew at Usha’s age’, he would complain. He was stunned that my second-grade teacher didn’t assign any homework and that at the age of seven I hadn’t yet been taught square roots or the concept of pi.

He appeared without warning, never phoning beforehand but simply knocking on the door the way people did in Calcutta and calling out ‘Boudi!’ as he waited for my mother to let him in. Before we met him, I would return from school and find my mother with her purse in her lap and her trench coat on, desperate to escape the apartment where she had spent the day alone. But now I would find her in the kitchen, rolling out dough for lunchis, which she normally made only on Sundays for my father and me, or putting up new curtains she’d bought at Woolworth’s. I didn’t know, back then, that Pranab Kaku’s visits were what my mother looked forward to all day, that she changed into a new sari and combed her hair in anticipation of his arrival, and that she planned, days in advance, the snacks she would serve him with such nonchalance. That she lived for the moment she heard him call out ‘Boudi!’ from the porch and that she was in a foul humor on the day he didn’t materialize.”

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art of resistance

Coming Home: Queer South Asians and the Politics of Family.

Alok Vaid-Menon is a trans/national South Asian writer, performer, and solidarity activist who has organized with racial, economic, and gender justice movements across the world. His creative & political work grapples with questions of diaspora, trauma, race, desire, and politics. As a staff member of the audre lorde project (a grassroots organizing center for LGBT people of color) and ½ of the spoken word collaborationDARKMATTER, he is committed to building the collective power of young queer and trans people of color.

maxresdefaultAlok Vaid-Menon /image via youtube/

I discovered a great article on his website Return The Gayze, where he describes his own experience of ‘coming out’ and the way it differentiates from the experience of his white peers and the impressions they had of it. Here are some great excerpts from the article:

“The more that I’ve built community with other queer (South) Asians, the more I’ve begin to think about how these conversations about blood family are actually part of our movement work. That impromptu skillshare at the bar, that discussion potluck (I mean crying session), and those daily phone calls with extended blood family are campaign strategies that we are engaging in. What we are trying to do is create new language and framework that actually make sense for our experiences.

I want to suggest that our attachments to our blood families are not only sentimental, they are political. This sentimentality, this angst, this emotional labor is legitimate political work. Our turn toward our families of origin is part of a strategy of intimate organizing – a type of political work that often gets erased or dismissed by dominant white and masculine standards of queer visibility. In a political climate where radicalism is increasingly being attributed to individual activists developing individual political theory and finding individual liberation, our turn back to the blood family is a form of critique. It suggests a commitment to a type of collective liberation and a practice of solidarity where we refuse to allow our people to be disposable in our movement work.

In one telling of the story I ‘found’ my queerness and became an activist outside of my people. However, to subscribe to this story would be to relegate my family – and by extension, my people – into a space chiefly defined by its apathy and conservatism. White supremacy has long relied on such a trope: that immigrants and people of color are too ‘conservative’ and ‘too traditional.’  I bought into the story and defined my queerness and my politics always in contrast to my family of origin.

But what I soon learned is that as queer South Asians we navigate a complicated cultural landscape where we often are not afforded control of our own narratives. Our telling of personal violence often gets swallowed by white supremacy in the service of its racist and imperialist agenda. This is because the cultural logics that help maintain structural racism are stronger than our individual stories.

When my white peers would hear about the queerphobia I experienced from my people it would give power to a larger imperialist narrative that immigrants and people of color are traditional and conservative and therefore need to be educated or saved (read: occupied and exploited). My white peers would ask irrelevant questions like when my parents immigrated to this country and what access to education they had as if Western education and citizenship are necessary for queer politics. My white peers would ask me how fluent in English they were – as if access to English is at all correlated with queer violence. They would ask me why I was still in contact with them, why I didn’t just cut my connections.

What became evident is that my individual narratives could not pierce through the logics of orientalism which continue to find ways to position brown folks as ess developed than the Western world. What white queers don’t understand is that the entire mandate of racist assimilation in this country is about us being forced to give up our culture, tradition, and families. Assimilation has always been about us hating ourselves and feeling insecure in our bodies, families, and cultures. White folks do not understand how so many of us are not willing to leave our cultures for our queerness – how so many of us carry more complex identities than just our genders and sexualities.

Collectively we began to recognize that our immigrant families are not just transphobic, they are also ‘colonized.’ I learned the ways in which colonialism in South Asia and white supremacy in the United States has always relied on regulating the genders and sexualities of my people. I learned the ways in which racism operates by enforcing and policing the gender binary and compulsory heterosexuality on communities of color. I recognized that my family is just as broken as I am but they never had the time and space to really process and heal from the violence of colonialism, the terror of Partition, the trauma of diaspora – let alone the English to articulate it to me.

Rather than blaming my own communities for our lack of queer South Asian visibility I began to realize that our diaspora responds to racism with heteronormativity. External threat engenders intimate violence. In the white telling of the story my family is just prejudiced. But in my telling of the story my people have been so forcibly disconnected from their culture and tradition that they cling desperately onto heteronormativity to maintain some semblance of self. In the white telling of the story my people are acting from a place of power and violence. In my telling of the story my people are acting from a place of hurt.

Trauma seeps through generations.

For those of us who still have access to our families or communities of origin and can interact with them without fear of significant harm, I believe that it is important that we do this slow and intimate work of finding ways to translate our queerness. This work of coming to terms with our ‘queer’ and ‘(South) Asian’ identities cannot be the only site of our movement work (as is often the case). We must continue to mobilize in solidarity with other oppressed peoples and address prejudice within our own. Certainly we are all still trying to figure out the best strategies to do this work and to still remain safe and secure. Certainly we are going to fuck up. Certainly it’s some of the hardest work that we can do because often our validation relies on approval from the very people who may deny and abuse us. But this type of work feels important nonetheless to so many of us. And there is power and politics in that feeling. Like the same way so many of us know that we will invite our mothers to live with us when they get too old to care for themselves (regardless of what our queer communities might think).

Because when I think about the future, when I think about the world that I am fighting for… I know that I am not interested in being part of the revolution unless my mother will be right there beside me.”

Read the full article on Return The Gayze. And – listen to Alok’s Tactile Lerner poem.

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art of resistance, Iraq

Al-Mutanabbi Street and the Healing Power of Poetry.

Manuscripts really do not burn. Seven years after the explosion of al-Mutanabbi street in Baghdad, the famous street of poets and booksellers is slowly recovering. I already wrote about the coalition of artists working on ‘An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street’, a project to “re-assemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost in the bombing.

Today, I decided to gather photos and experiences from al-Mutanabbi street, before and after the bombing, to try to feel the atmosphere of this legendary street. Jason Florio in his photo essay Baghdad Café (Orion Magazine, 2003) observes how:

“Throughout the Al- Mutanabbi district, the restaurants are full, the fruit stands are fully stocked, and the red double-decker buses rolling by seem oddly familiar. There are no armed militiamen at intersections. No tanks grinding up the asphalt on Sharia Raschid…

The Sh’ah Bander and other nearby cafes are a haven from sanctions that have left many intellectuals driving Taxis for Dinar instead of punding keys of Crown typewriters. There is little money in Baghdad at all, even less for the purchase of words, but their passion for writing has not been dissuaded by the lack of financial renumeration. ‘We don’t need a full stomach, but we need to write’, says Wajeeh Abbas, who writes for next to nothing for the weekly magazine al-Itihad.

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/all images above © Jason Florio/

Here is the feature from the Radio Free Europe /Radio Liberty about the revival of al-Mutanabbi street in 2010. Poets are gathering again, reciting their poetry, celebrating love and life.

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AFP2/al Mutanabbi street in 2012 and 2013, images © AFP/

lynsey addarioSeated near the entrance of the Shahbandar literary cafe , owner Haji Mohammed al Khashali gazes out to Al Mutanabbi street , a centuries old hub for booksellers and intellectuals. A 2007 car bomb near the cafe killed five of Khashali’s sons, whose portraits hang on the wall. /image © Lynsey Addario, After the Storm – Baghdad series/

It feels right to end this post with Taha Muhammad ALi, great Palestinian poet, reading his beautiful poem Revenge.

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!

But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

Listen to Taha reading it beautifully in Arabic, and Peter Cole translating it greatly into English. It is a special experience. And do not forget – keep track of Iraq Body Count. Al-Mutanabbi street might be healing, but Iraq is far from being at peace (at last).

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art of resistance, travel

The Chiefs of The Gambia.

Jason Florio is a NYC based photographer and writer from London. He has been working as a freelance photojournalist around the globe for almost two decades.  Along with his wife, photography producer and writer, Helen Jones-Florio, he spent the last three months of 2009 making a 930 km expedition by foot of The Gambia (West Africa) to produce a series of portraits of African chiefs. The Gambia has been a place Florio regularly returns to. For the past fourteen years he has made yearly trips there to work on a long-term project of the people living in and around a sacred forest called Makasutu.

These are some of his portraits of chiefs and elders made while on a 930km circumnavigation by foot of The Gambia.

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/all images © Jason Florio/

For more on Florio and his work, visit his official website.

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art of resistance, Palestine

Disarming Design From Palestine.

Disarming Design from Palestine is an inclusive design label that presents functional products from Palestine, that provide an alternative narrative from what you might usually find in the high street. The collection includes objects such as hourglasses that use cement from the separation wall, a dress made out of one keffiyeh, embroidered car decorations, scarfs depicting landscapes, olive leaves as earrings and an impossible chess game with water tanks and watch towers. The growing collection of products is presented on-line and through a traveling exhibition. As a collection it aims to represent Palestinian culture in its current reality and reflect upon the function of art in situations of conflict.

The goods are developed, designed and produced by contemporary designers, artists and students in collaboration with local artisans and producers. During several ‘create-shops’ they engage in an enriching design dialogue with small emerging businesses and international colleagues. The project aims to catalyze the development of design as a discourse in Palestine.

The overall objective of the project is to contribute to sustainable cultural and economic development in Palestine, through stimulating working relationships between artists, designers and manufacturers. The label also investigates in the position contemporary designers can take in relation to conflictual situations. It makes use of art and design as powerful tools that allow us to have serious discussions within a community about our political, social and cultural realities.

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Electricity wire cover, designer: Wafa Meri, manufacturers: Women from the Ramallah area. Inspired by the traditional Palestinian stitch sabaleh.

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Distance to Jerusalem cups, designer: Mamon Ashreteh, manufacturers: Hebron Glass & Ceramics Factory. Inspired by  Khaled Hourani‘s project The road to Jerusalem.

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Falafel Coin Maker, designer: Tommi Vasko, manufacturers: Ushama Boulos, Bethlehem. Falafel mold with Palestinian pound, sandblasted.

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Subjective Atlas of Palestine, designer: Annelys de Vet. In cooperation with Khaled Hourani and other Palestinian artists, photographers and designers, de Vet made the atlas which maps the country through their eyes. The result is unconventional, very personal and heartwarming.

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Desingaged Observer Outfit, designer: Tommi Vasko & Tessel Bruhl, manufacturer: Tessel Bruhl. Made out of traditional Bedouin fabric, frequently used in tents for festivals and political meetings which makes it perfect as a camouflage for those occasions.

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Bird Plates, designer: Maher Shaheen, manufacturers: Hebron Glass & Ceramics Factory. Plate with which the leftovers of the food can be given to the birds, with additional water in the middle part (one third of the food produced for human consumption ends up in trash).

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Everywhere Palestine scarf, designer: Tariq Salsa, manufacturers: Print Unlimited. Panoramic photos of Palestinian cities printed on silk scarfs.

/all images © Disarming Design from Palestine/

For more information on these and other products by Disarming Design, visit their official website, and if you can (in any way you can) – support the wonderful work by Palestinian designers and manufacturers and their talented international friends.

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

A day in Hebron, West Bank.

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Hebron, West Bank | April 10, 2014

Photos by Ammar Awad/Reuters

1. A Palestinian vendor organises a display of glass ornaments in a glass factory.

2. A Palestinian man paints a traditional vase in a ceramic factory.

3. A Palestinian man paints a traditional ceramic plate in a ceramic factory.

4.. A Palestinian man uses a potter’s wheel to make a traditional vase in a ceramic factory.

5. Palestinians work in a ceramic factory.

6. A Palestinian glassblower uses a blowpipe to make a traditional vase in a workshop.

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art of resistance, Iran

The Iranian Knot (traditional vs. everyday life) by Jalal Sepehr.

Jalal Sepehr is an Iranian photographer. His work Knot series (2011) is comprised of 12 images all including a Persian rug (1m x 70cm) taken in the historic city of Yazd in central Iran. Contrary to initial intentions, some of the images in Knot make use of the historic scenes and examples of architecture found in Yazd.

In this series, Sepehr strove to depict a space in between traditional and everyday life in his pictures. To do so, he made use of the rug and architecture as representative of tradition in opposition to the individuals pictured, dealing with the issues of everyday life.

knot-4-rah“A contrast”, Knot Series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-abanbar“Uncertainty”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-amir-chgmagh“A procession of mourning”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-dastha“Hands”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-do-panjareh“two windows”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-ghale“A gate in the way”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-ketab“A look at the past”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-loolehaye-farsh“Closing and leaving”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-partab“Thrown away”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-pirmard“A half look at the past”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-estade“A view”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

knot-jahesh“From this side to that side”, Knot series, Jalal Sepehr

Beyond having participated in tens of exhibits both abroad and within Iran, Sepehr’s photography has been featured in galleries worldwide, including his series titled Water at the Silk Road Gallery (Tehran 2004), and his series Knot at the Khaki Gallery (Boston 2011). Visit his official website for more.

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