ASHOK VISH | » Under the Gaze of the Goddess Under the Gaze of the Goddess – ASHOK VISH


Under the Gaze of the Goddess, 2021 - ongoing
Photographs, Videos

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.