These portraits explore how it feels to inhabit a queer body

Just Wide Enough To Hold The Weight is the group show reaching out across the ‘abyss of otherness’

The camera is such an incisive tool of exploration and portraiture is such a revealing medium, throwing light on the subject as well as the photographer and their perspective on the world. A new exhibition, Just Wide Enough To Hold The Weight  (at New York’s Baxter St gallery) brings together the work of three exceptional artists using their cameras to investigate all the nuances of gender identity and the complexity of selfhood. 

Curator by Phalguni Guliani was drawn to the work of Marvel Harris, Siddhartha Hajra, and Soumya Sankar Bose because of what she describes as “their quietness”. She elaborates: “These are not grab-you-in-the-collar works, the effect they have is that of being tapped gently on your shoulder with the rush of knowledge ever so slightly. They don’t announce themselves but are present potently in the way, say, a slant of light is.”

While the exploration of gender is a theme which underpins the exhibition, Guliani feels this is also a doorway to a broader conversation. “When you enter their narrative worlds – their operatic interiorities – the conversation is much wider… wide enough to hold the weight of this door that has framed it.”

The concept of weight was at the heart of Guliani’s vision for the show. “I was thinking a great deal about the weight of images, the weight of each small gesture you do in the course of a single day or a single life,” the curator tells Dazed. “I was thinking about the weight of meaning, and how we throw it across an abyss of otherness, especially with photography where there is the inherent ‘other’ who makes the image.”

The curator explains how each artist is working at the intersection of the everyday and the experiences that arise while inhabiting a queer body. “With Marvel, there is a celebration of the inherent nature of our bodies to change. With Siddhartha, there is a lyricality in highlighting the elements of kinship and performativity in gender that none of us are a stranger to in our daily lives. And with Soumya’s vignettes, you have a rendering of hope and anxiety with a brush that is, to me, as alluring and as absurd as the omnishambles of modern living.”

Othered and isolated by his struggles with an eating disorder, gender, autism, and depression, Dutch photographer Marvel Harris began turning the camera on himself as a means of overcoming his sense of alienation. When I grab my camera to take self-portraits, this most often is when I do not know how to deal with feelings such as anxiety, loneliness, or desperation about the future,” Harris tells Dazed. “I can then look at myself from a distance and stop my negative thoughts from spiralling out of control. Photography is therapeutic for me; it helps me manage my emotions, understand my own complex identity, and connect with the world around me when I need it the most.”

Siddhartha Hajra characterises his work as being “driven by instinct” and the way images he’s created interact with each other. The exhibition features Opera Monorama, a triptych from an ongoing series reflecting on “the operatic world of transgender artist Monorama”. The New Delhi-based artist explains: “These images depict a slice from Monorama’s life, circumscribed by the act she plays as a goddess along with her ensemble troupe in city neighbourhoods. I wanted to bring out the ephemeral quality of gender as a societal construct that this transgender artist navigates.”

Soumya Sankar Bose’s work is composed of documentary film and photography gathered over a period of several years in an exercise of tremendous trust and sensitivity. “When I started this project back in 2014-15, homosexuality was a like criminal offence in India. So, the people you see in these photographs were very much concerned about their gender identity and sexual choices as it was a legal offence. They could not reveal their gender identity in public or even at home since homosexuality was taboo.”

Guliani concludes by encapsulating the sensibility of the exhibition: “For me, this show is a testament to grit. An early working title I had for it was ‘I’m sorry that I did not die’, so the feeling I would want to visitors to take with them is a couplet from the poem that frames the show’s entrance – that we can live, and we will.” 

Just Wide Enough to Hold the Weight is showing at Baxter St until June 8 2022


#portraits #explore #feels #inhabit #queer #body

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