The opening for The Coalition at The Alice Gallery's Project Diana happened this past Saturday night. This included the installation itself, as well as a performance that happened from 7-8pm. This was my first performance, and it was a deeply exhausting emotional experience. I am so accustomed to viewing my work with other people; it was interesting to walk away from the opening not knowing exactly how it had gone because I was inside of the work, and therefore could not be removed from it enough to perceive how it was received.
Thank you to everyone who came out, who contributed their stories and words to the piece, and especially to Saara Ahmed and Natasha Marin, for standing alongside me during the performance. Here are a few images from the opening:
Here is my statement from the show:
This project, The Coalition, was born out of a desire to take control. As a woman of color living in Seattle, my body is used as a vessel built to contain narratives that were decided about me long before I existed, narratives born of the colonial white gaze. My skin and heritage, not being as polarizing or immediately political as the skin of my Hispanic and Black sisters, grants me access to a white world, where I am coveted as an exotic and cultured possession. Strangers approach me at openings, not to discuss my work, rather to discuss their own experiences with India and Indian culture, to discuss their love of my people, the girl they dated who looked like me. They are drawn to my mysterious otherness, the magical key that my people hold to spirituality and enlightenment.
But this pass as an object of desire into ‘liberal’ white circles comes at a price. My role is narrow, my movements and opinions limited. My main objective is to listen, smile, and nod, and to carry my brownness deep inside my body, where it is tucked away and can be forgotten. I am meant to bring it out at the request of my white beholders, to appease and entertain them with small, digestible doses of my culture and ethnicity.
In this exchange, I receive the opportunities that come with my ability to move in white circles, and in return, my white counterparts get to reinforce their beliefs that, through their acceptance of my brown skin, they are as progressive as they claim to be, different than their parents, that they are, truly and earnestly, colorblind.
But I have seen the other side of this encounter. I have seen what happens when I do more than nod and smile, when I begin to talk about my experiences, my culture, and my life in a way that does not suit the white narrative. I have seen how quickly my exoticized body becomes a polarizing one — how often my words, no matter how reasonable, are labeled as aggressive, judgmental, and of course, ‘racist.’ In arguments about brown bodies, my experience of having lived in one all my life is not seen as a credential — it is seen as an emotional burden that blinds me from the white centric truth.
I have seen so many self-proclaimed white progressives take off their masks and become their parents, their grandparents. I have seen them step out of their costumes and don the garb of their legacy. People I have trusted. People I have loved. People who loved my colonized body back, but people whose love quickly ran dry when faced with my radicalized mind.
This betrayal, every time it happens, no matter how often it happens, cuts deep. And just as their desperation to cling to their power is their legacy, my pain is mine. And sometimes, I can’t help but wonder if things were simpler, better, when I did not know the difference between the white gaze and my own. When I was grateful to have access to white circles at all, grateful to have a role to play.
How simple would it be to let my tongue sit heavy in my mouth, my lips spread wide against my skin in a close-mouthed smile. How easy would it be to demand and to want exactly what the white gaze gives me. How painless would it be to be an object that is looked at, talked around, but ultimately accepted.
The Coalition is an attempt to find out.