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ASHOK VISH

Automagic

Automagic, 2023

Short fiction film, 14 mins

On his return home, an androgynous-looking Madhu attempts to seduce Ratnakar, his rickshaw driver, who is practicing celibacy in preparation for a religious pilgrimage.

To Kill The One You Love

To Kill The One You Love, 2021 - ongoing
Fiction Film, 105mins

In Development

(Selected for the NFDC Film Bazaar Co-Production Market, 2021)

The myth of Ayyappan, a Hindu deity born to two male gods albeit one of them in a female avatar, provides the inspiration for this film. DEV, a middle-aged rickshaw driver declares his love for MADHU, an affluent young artist, during their first ever sexual encounter. While Madhu moves on, Dev’s obsession grows and he begins to envision Madhu as female, leading to a series of emotionally charged confrontations.

A Very Queer Friendship

A Very Queer Friendship, 2022 – ongoing
Docu-fiction film, 15mins
In Development

In Collaboration with Sandeep TK

Ashok Vish and Sandeep TK were unlikely candidates for friendship. At the time of their first meeting, they shared the same lover. For one of them, the lover had just become an ex; and for the other, a new boyfriend. Because of the nature of their work, their lives soon became inextricably intertwined. Eventually the shared lover became an ex for both Ashok and Sandeep, and in the wake of this development, their friendship grew. The relationship they felt with one another developed out of the community among which they found themselves as queer individuals living away from home, rooting their existence in a “chosen family.” It also grew from their shared desire for the same man, a link marked at times in bitter jealousy, and at other times, by empathy and commiseration. Eventually, from their shared experiences, a relationship over shared interests in other men and gay cruising emerged, and so the two became both friends and artistic collaborators.

This work, an autobiographical docu-fiction film, documents their developing friendship. In spring of 2022 Ashok and Sandeep traveled to the Chamayavilakku Festival at the Kottamkulangara temple in Kollam, Kerala. They thought it would be interesting to examine their turbulent relationship using both written and spoken texts played over visuals of the two of them dressing as women and entering the festival grounds with the objective of attracting the attention and desire of other men attending the event. According to legend, the first puja of the temple was held by a group of cowherds wearing the clothes of women, leading to the extraordinary ritual to this day where only men dressed as women are allowed into the temple with the chamayavilakku (lighted lamp) to invoke the goddess. In recent years, members of the LGBTQ+ community (primarily gay, bisexual and the trans community) have begun to frequent this festival in droves for two reasons: to offer their blessings to the goddess, and to cruise, combining the sacred and the secular in a hedonistic way, that allows queer people to occupy a public space that has been transformed from religious site to a carnival-esque environment for queer love and lust.

Our journey, our story, becomes the pursuit of our desires. The same desires that had once come between us has now brought us together, as friends, as artistic collaborators, and as kin.

Under the Gaze of the Goddess

Under the Gaze of the Goddess, 2021 - ongoing
Photographs, Videos
(work-in-progress)

In Sexual Sites, Seminal Attitudes, a groundbreaking book that situates research into sexual cultures of India, Chandra S. Balachandran provides an analytical report on spaces of nested Indian male-male sexual relations and their relative scales. Although the report is now more than ten years old, it remains highly relevant and applicable in current contexts. Balachandran illustrates and illuminates a nested hierarchy of cultural/sexual spaces in which the socially sanctioned hetero-normative space (A) surrounds other subcultural sites, including a visible homosocial space (B), an underground male homosexual space (C) and what he terms “nascent gay spaces” (D). Balachandran’s observations, however, are limited to urban settings. No significant work has been done on lower-order urban and rural settings.

This project study examines and argues for analogous rural articulations of those spaces defined and outlined by Balachandran in his work. What makes these spaces somewhat unique is that they are transient, and occur only at particular times of the year. During new moon and the full moon every month, two temple festivals worshipping the Angala Parameshwari and Vakrakali goddesses respectively are attended by thousands of devotees in two rural villages of Tamil Nadu. During these festivities, in the agrarian landscapes adjacent to the temples, an underground male/queer homosexual space (C) has been established and sustained over many years. With this project, I will investigate and document this underground sexual site and its rural location. I will furthermore analyze the boundaries and characteristics of this space, and the people who populate it.

My research thus far reveals that these sites are predominantly frequented by men and small numbers of trans women who come from nearby rural towns, although a small percentage of visitors come from cities. Though the primary activity in these spaces are sexual in nature, there are also social activities as well: Individuals organize informal dance-offs and create the feeling of a community, albeit one that is ephemeral in nature.

This study uses photography and video to explore and map out the blurred boundaries of these sites. Of special interest is the manner in which they juxtapose the sexual, the sacred, and the cosmic. Metaphorically drawing a connect between the men/queer people with their changing sexual codes according to the space they inhabit to the all pervasive divine mother goddess, who is diverse in her forms and iconographic avatars, and the changing lunar phases during which these sites come alive.

 

The First Duty…Is To Be Inconspicuous

The First Duty...Is To Be Inconspicuous
Museum Of the Sexual Outlaw, 2018 - ongoing

Project conceived during an art residency at Lichtenberg Studios, Berlin. Supported by the Goethe Institute

I perceived parallels between photo and information sharing engaged in by gay men on online dating websites & apps as a means of identifying potential social and sexual contacts, and similar procedures utilized by the East German State Security Service—the Stasi—as a means of controlling, coercing, and oppressing queer individuals. What intrigues me the most is that both of them hinge on the creation of archives of sorts—collections of photographs, written records and videos/films used as handy references to identify individuals who possess or exhibit specific qualities. More than this, however, is the fact that the power of these two particular types of archives rests not on the active use of their content, but the threat suggested by the possession of these images or information, as a form of personal information.

Given their central role in the preservation of intellectual and cultural histories, we tend to think of archives as valuable resources for decoding and making sense of the past and situating current practices in an historical and cultural continuum. The two types of archives I investigate here, though, are less benign, given the uses to which they can be and have been put.

Creating fictional narratives has formed the bulk of my artistic practice; and with this work, I perform this process on two levels: I formulate a set of fictional characters and, in turn, develop fictional narratives of record-keeping and other related actions to illuminate the disquieting correspondences that link the official archive of the totalitarian state to the private archive of the "sexual outlaw." My work, the title of which comes from a previous citizen of East Germany, stating "The first duty of the citizen was to be inconspicuous" uses individual photos and information files to analyze the need for discretion, for privacy in contemporary India—a situation that clearly mirrors life in the GDR under the Stasi, the East German government's most visible and effective force of surveillance—and at the same time, to examine the liberating potential of public disclosure as well, freeing the queer subject from the bonds of oppression and intimidation.

It’s a Quotidian Life Out of the Dark

It's a Quotidian Life Out of the Dark, 2019
Digital photo collage on fabric

series of 7 photographs on 70gsm poster paper

I intend to romanticize the “art” of gay cruising and the spaces in which they transpire such as public toilets or outdoor stadiums in modern day India, because they deserve a little romance after years of denigration and stigmatization. Following an on-site installation of the photo collage on fabric, The same print was printed on 70gsm poster paper, then pasted on a public wall close to a cinema hall known for screening softcore porn films in Bangalore. The objective was to observe the print in public over the course of several weeks to see if it would get defaced or vandalized, or not. Within three weeks, the print got torn up gradually which allowed me to then photograph the print during these stages, further allowing me to question whether the defacing happened due to the pornographic nature of it or the homosexual content of the work.

The work was supported by the K.K. Hebbar Foundation for a site-specific exhibition titled, THE TOILETS; Geographies of Desire: (a) site, and (b) situation.

A Retelling

A Retelling, 2018
Video projection, 7 mins
Photograph on canvas, 6ft x 2ft 

https://vimeo.com/756082677

Following up on two previous projects - one relating to the Karaga festival derived from the Mahabharata, the other related to Ramlila based on the Ramayana - I began thinking about the oral and literary history of retelling myths. In my new work, ‘A Retelling’, I have experimented on creating a crossover between the two yugas (eras) of the two epic poems by examining gender fluidity and transformation. It is a well-known fact that there is no single version of a myth, and as a culture, we have been telling our myths in different ways for centuries. Each telling is inflected by time and place, by caste and religion, and by politics and ideology.

The Karaga carrier, a man, who bears the mother goddess in the symbolic form of a “Kalasha” decorated as a “Shikara” on the head is transformed into a woman and becomes Draupadi from the Mahabharata who is believed to come down from heaven to earth to stay for three days with the Thigala community. During the Ramlila, which is a theatrical production depicting the story of Lord Rama from the Ramayana, a young boy of Brahmin caste portrays Sita as it is an age-old belief that women or girls aren’t worthy enough to be on stage playing a main character.

Both Draupadi and Sita are mythically born from the primordial elements of Earth and Fire and in this work, the same man performs both characters.

Camp: Notes from Bangalore

Camp: Notes from Bangalore, 2019
8 Videos, TV Screens
In collaboration with Joshua Muyiwa

Project support by: The Sandbox Collective
Commissioned for Gender Bender, 2019

Camp: Notes from Bangalore borrows gestures from camp men in the city to create how-to-videos influenced by the aesthetic of iconic exercise videos from the 80’s (Think: Jane Fonda). We intend to pay homage and honour these gestures – but also, remind the audience that the underpinning of camp is: don’t take yourself too seriously.

The Toilets – Geographies of Desire

The Toilets
Geographies of Desire: (a) site, and (b) situation

Project concept & curation: Ashok Vish
Project support by: K.K. Hebbar Art Foundation

Participating Artists - Aishwaryan Kumaran, Aravani Art Project, Ashok Vish, Siri Khandavilli

This collaborative project can be perceived as a dipstick survey through art around the enablers and barriers for usage of Public Toilets (Its), alongside the altogether different usages of them across all gender identities and sexualities. The assumed public toilet usage is simple but it is far more complicated than one can even imagine. Public toilets have a history of being segregated according to one's race or caste and the explanation for this was based on biological differences, which is similar to today's sex segregated toilets. The exploration of such binary constructs along with unwritten gender rules inside the public toilets that perpetuate heteronormativity, hegemonic femininity and masculinity are at the core of our interests. The norms and rules that govern behavior and social relations inside men's and women's public toilets affect pivotal topics such as privacy, definition of sex and the significance such public toilets hold as a spatial domain for sexual cruising among gay men in particular or for transgender individuals as a simple changing room. Highlighting the treatment of public toilets as nascent social spaces by marginalized identity groups is at the heart of this project, yet, it is clear that with these provisions of usage, other people are also impacted, including nonconforming individuals, cissexual men and women who are uncomfortable using public toilets, homeless people, working class people and the differently-abled.

Temporal liminality is also imposed on these toilets and within these fragments of time, it helps individuals develop feelings of a closed community to fight back the battle of marginalization and stigmatization across political landscapes, communities and private households. This utilization of a space also creates a post-socialist culture in the neoliberal worlds of urban Indian cities - a culture that breeds a sense of security within its parameters and the existing rigid structures of daily life - to allow individuals who seek such public toilets as public spaces to feel an aura of self-expression and comfort.

A Boy Called Boris

A Boy Called Boris, 2014
Fiction Film, 10mins

https://vimeo.com/100240333

BORIS, 16 years old, suffers from a speech impediment and is about to start the first day of classes at a new public school. Because he is ill prepared and nervous about his new environment, BORIS finds that when he is asked to introduce himself, he stutters. Embarrassed and frustrated, he runs away from the classroom and begins what becomes a day of introspection and self-discovery.