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Global Roundup: First Non-Binary Person Elected to Colombia Congress, Human Rights Group Condemns Homophobia in Iraq, Artist Jaishri Abichandani First Museum Survey Celebrates Art and Activism
Curated by FG intern Jana Kortam
Colombia Congressperson-elect Tamara Argote. (Photo courtesy of Caribe Afirmativo) via The Washington Blade
Tamara Argote, a member of a coalition of leftist and centrist political parties known as Pacto Histórico, has become the first non-binary person elected to the Colombian Congress. They will represent the capital of Bogotá in the Colombian House of Representatives.
Ahead of Sunday’s election, the country’s Constitutional Court issued a landmark ruling that said Colombians should have the option to choose a non-binary gender marker on official ID documents.
More than two dozen openly LGBTQ candidates were on the ballot in Colombia’s national elections. Five—Susana Boreal, Andrés Cancimance, Alejandro García, Carolina Giraldo and María del Mar Pizarro—won seats in the Colombian House of Representatives. Mauricio Toro, who in 2018 became the first openly gay man elected to the Colombian Congress, did not win re-election on Sunday.
Angélica Lozano, a bisexual woman who in 2018 became the first out person elected to the Colombian Senate, was re-elected. Lozano, who is currently a member of the Coalición Alianza Verde y Centro Esperanza (Green Alliance and Center Hope Coalition), is married to Bogotá’s first woman Mayor Claudia López.
Alhelí Partida, director of global programs for the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which works closely with Caribe Afirmativo in Colombia, welcomed the election results.
For far too long, the LGBTQ community in Colombia has lived without equitable representation in Congress…This historic election exemplifies growing momentum for equality in the country. In addition to the trailblazers who ran this cycle, this success also belongs to the grassroots activists and community leaders who worked tirelessly to support these candidates and promote LGBTQ acceptance in communities across the country. - Alhelí Partida
© 2022 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch
TW: homophobic and transphobic violence
A report by Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with IraQueer, an Iraqi LGBT rights organization, has accused armed groups in Iraq of abducting, raping, torturing, and killing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people with impunity.
A Baghdadi transgender woman said several men beat her up, threw her in a garbage bin, cut her, and set her on fire before she was rescued. A gay man said he witnessed his boyfriend being killed before his eyes. A lesbian woman was stabbed in the leg and was warned to stop her “immoral behavior.”
The report, “Everyone Wants Me Dead,” by the New York-based organization in collaboration with IraQueer, also accuses Iraqi police and security forces of often being complicit in compounding anti-LGBT violence and of arresting individuals for non-conforming identities.
It portrays a picture of LGBT people besieged from multiple directions. These include “extreme violence” by family members; harassment in the streets; and digital targeting and harassment by armed groups on social media and same-sex dating applications, it said.
LGBT Iraqis live in constant fear of being hunted down and killed by armed groups with impunity, as well as arrest and violence by Iraqi police, making their lives unlivable…The Iraqi government has done nothing to stop the violence or hold the abusers accountable. - Rasha Younes, LGBT rights researcher in the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author
The report said “Many LGBT people said they felt they were forced to hide who they are to stay alive.”
Across much of the Middle East and North Africa, LGBT people and organizations advocating for LGBT rights face violence and discrimination, and most countries in the region have laws that criminalize same-sex relations, Younes said. Some that don’t, use other laws to target LGBT people. In Iraq specifically, “a culture of impunity and relative absence of the rule of law...allow armed groups to escape punishment for violence against ordinary Iraqis, including LGBT people,” she said.
The report is based in part on 54 interviews with LGBTQ+ Iraqis; Human Rights Watch conducted research for it between June and November of 2021.
Two LGBTQ+ people interviewed by the Associate Press in Baghdad, one who identifies as bisexual and another as a lesbian, explained they were afraid of sharing photos of themselves on queer dating apps, fearing it would be used against them. Both spoke on condition of anonymity fearing abuse from authorities and their families.
Fear of blackmail is widespread among LGBT people in Iraq, they said.
When I choose to open myself up to someone I wonder, can I trust them? Or will they use this against me? I’ve lived in fear every day of my life since I discovered myself. - ” a bisexual Iraqi man, a filmmaker living in Baghdad
The lesbian woman, an employee at a foreign embassy, said she confided in only a few close friends. When asked what was the worst outcome if she were to come out to her family, she said: “They would kill me.”
Barely defined “morality” laws and the lack of anti-discrimination legislation are among the “formidable barriers” cited by the report as discouraging LGBTQ+ people from reporting abuses to the police or filing complaints against law enforcement agents.
The transgender woman who said in the report that she was set on fire, added that her attackers wielded razor blades and screwdrivers. “I was screaming and tossing and turning from the burns, but I managed to protect my face.”
The report urged Iraqi authorities to investigate reports of violence by armed groups and security forces against those accused of or actual LGBTQ+ people and punish those responsible.
Goddess of Resistance (2018), Jaishri Abichandani, Courtesy of the artist and Craft Contemporary via The Art Newspaper
The artist founded the South Asian Women’s Creative Coalition (SAWCC), a nonprofit organization to focus on “advancement, visibility, and development of emerging and established South Asian womxn artists,” according to its official website. She also previously worked as the director of public events and projects at the Queens Museum of Art, in addition to other contributions in the art world. While some of the pieces in the exhibition are deeply personal, others capture collective energy.
Jaishri Abichandani, installation view of Jasmine Blooms at Night (2021), mixed media (courtesy Craft Contemporary) via Hyperallergic
Jasmine Blooms at Night (2021), an installation composed of multiple portraits, pays homage to South Asian feminist activists throughout the country, including Dr. Anjali Arondekar, who wrote the book For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India, and queer Sri Lankan performance artist, activist, organizer, and educator YaliniDream.
Installation view of Jaishri Abichandani: Flower-Headed Children, 2022. Photo by Josh Schaedel. Court via BOMB Magazine
Abichandani emphasizes the rise of South Asian women in United States politics, in particular Vice President Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. “Kamala’s Inheritance” reflects the artist’s perspective on Harris as a figure of hope –a South Asian and Black woman in politics, whose presence will potentially inspire even more women of colour — but also someone with “hubris, which can push her toward positions that have more flash than substance,” according to the artwork’s walls text. The symbols in the piece reference Greek mythology, Hindu religion (specifically the lotus flower), and American imperialism.
“Mona,” a portrait of Mona Eltahawy, likens the Egyptian journalist and activist to the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. Eltahawy’s bright red hair fits the overall opulence of the work, consisting of paint, plastic, mirrored glass, and fabric. The portrait highlights her unapologetic personality as she holds up two middle fingers.
Other works celebrate the #MeToo moment, protest, and community action, spotlighting Abichandani’s 2017 performance at the Met Breuer in which she asked 30 people to join her for a #MeToo demonstration. The action took place during photographer Raghubir Singh’s retrospective; Abichandani said that Singh assaulted her, and openly shared her story.
The exhibition’s text, printed on a bright gold wall, explains that Abichandani’s works “broaden American art audiences’ towards the appreciation of aesthetics that represent unfamiliar and unique cultural experiences.” The show embraces visual sumptuousness; some pieces glitter from every angle.
Unlike other immigrant communities, South Asians have yet to establish institutions for contemporary art and culture…Our institutions tend to be houses of worship, folkloric programs, and schools for the classical arts…attention devoted to contemporary art by South Asians working in the US is rare. - Anuradha Vikram, the show’s curator, ArtNews article in 2019
The show asks viewers to check their assumptions, and question their reactions to each piece. Abichandani argues that South Asian devotional art and queer culture have both been regarded as strange and other within (mostly straight, White) Euro-American society.
Jaishri Abichandani, “Two Boys in Saris” (2018), mixed media on wood pedestal (photo by the author)
She embraces and exalts queer culture in the show. “Two Boys in Saris” (2018) is installed on its own pedestal, painted gold to match the surrounding walls. It showcases the artist’s integration of devotional images with modern queer aesthetics; the jewelry and clothing on each figure nod to Hindu traditions of dressing idols in temples, while elements like bright blue lipstick speak to liberation in fashion. It portrays two queer Muslim performance artists whose poses point to Bollywood themes.
The show is a reminder that South Asian contemporary artists are ready to be heard, whether or not institutions want to catch up.
Jaishri Abichandani: Flower-Headed Children continues at Craft Contemporary (5814 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California) through May 8. The exhibition is curated by Anuradha Vikram.
Jana Kortam (she/they) is a sociology and feminist and gender studies student at the University of Ottawa. They are experienced at advocating against gender-based inequality especially in the SWANA community. They are actively engaging with intersectional feminist ideologies in order to radically smash the patriarchal supremacist society.
She believes that in order to be able to achieve justice, we must offer a microphone for minority voices unheard rather than narrate their stories for them.