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Global Roundup: Iranian Art and Activism, Educating Kenyan Women on Climate Change, LGBTQ+ Indians Hopeful After Setback, San Francisco Drag School, London LGBTQ+ Moving Service
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Exhibition imagery from The Fury by Shirin Neshat. (Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and the Goodman Gallery/Wallpaper)
Iranian artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat is known for her art and activism around being an Iranian woman and migrating to America. Her latest body of work, The Fury, turns to the Middle East, focusing on the subject of sexual assault and captivity in Iran. The exhibition will be open until November at the Goodman Gallery in London, and it will also be available virtually as part of the 2023 London Film Festival.
The Fury uses Neshat’s signature motifs – black and white photography combined with handwritten calligraphy in Farsi. In this body of work, however, she was inspired by the Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran and decided to tackle her subject matter head-on. The artwork consists of a series of photographs accompanied by an 18–minute film shot on the streets of Brooklyn. The pieces address women’s rights and oppression in Iran, as well as the immigrant experiences of Iranian women living in the west.
First, I wanted to say that this film was made in June of 2022, just so you can recall when Mahsa Amin was murdered. That unleashed rage; all these women were bottled up all this time, but the fact [was] that she was murdered just because some of her hair was showing. Sometimes we need victims to be reminded of how angry we are about racism, about injustice, about economic injustice, about political injustice. – Shirin Neshat
Neshat left Iran at the age of 17, and has lived in the US since. She began creating art after visiting Iran in the early 1990s, and she has since become an important activist voice, as well as a renowned artist and filmmaker.
I wanted this story to be about an Iranian who is free but even in freedom, she cannot recover from trauma. I also carry a lot of baggage. I've been separated from my family for so many years. Everyone has trauma. I think to me, this work was as much about this as it was about sexual assault. – Shirin Neshat
Eunice Lepariyo, the Director of Baringo Women and Youth Empowerment Group. Photo by Florah Koch | Nation Media Group
Due to rising water levels of Lakes Baringo and Bogoria in Kenya, over 10,000 people were displaced from their homes in the Ilchamus ward, a region prone to flooding. Over 150 households settled on the outskirts of Marigot town, in Uwanja Ndege, Baringo South where they live in temporary Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp
Torrence Ledaa was one of the thousands of women who were displaced, but since 2020 she has resided at the IDP camp in Uwanja Ndege. She says that when everyone first settled at the camp, they relied on others for everything from food to clothing as a majority of their belongings were swallowed by the rising water levels. Ledaa had two acres of seed maize farm that were swept downstream. Her seed maize farming used to cover all of her costs, including school fees for her five children and other necessities.
Ledaa says that women and children have borne the brunt of climate change, some being forced to sleep on bare floors and on empty stomachs due to the conditions. Living in the camps quickly became unaffordable for many displaced women and their children. In light of these challenges, last year women at the camp began to plant vegetables and other crops that are resistant to drought. Many of the crops that were planted last year were harvested, such as vegetables and sweet potatoes, which many of the women have begun to sell. This initiative has provided dozens of women with comprehensive training on farming, as well as financial independence through a sustainable lifestyle.
Help and education was provided by Eunice Lepariyo, the director of the Baringo women and youth empowerment group in the minority Ilchamus community. Lepariyo’s objective is to champion the rights of indigenous women in Baringo South, especially those affected by climate change. She gained experience in 2009 through a four-month training in Geneva, called the indigenous fellowship, to study human rights.
We have more than 150 households living in temporary tents and if you go there, most of those affected are women, who have been forced to start their lives from scratch. That is the reason why I am targeting them to be resilient and rebuild their lives. I am happy when I see women progressing and providing for their families without much strain. Women from this community, especially those from the flood-prone areas have suffered for long, with some unable to afford food, clothing, and even shelter for their families. I want to see them become independent, taking into consideration that many are the breadwinners. – Eunice Lepariyo
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT community) watch the judgement on same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court on a screen at an office in Mumbai, India October 17, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
India’s Supreme Court has declined to legalize same-sex marriage in the country, saying that the nation’s parliament needs to decide. Just five years after the Supreme Court scrapped a colonial-era ban on same-sex relations, millions of LGBTQ+ people in India were hopeful that the Supreme Court would rule in their favour. Although it was not the ruling they were hoping for, on Tuesday, LGBTQ+ activists pledged to keep fighting for marriage equality.
We may stumble on the march to equality, but we will continue to march forward. – Saattvic, gay Indian man living in Vancouver, Canada
The court accepted the government’s offer to set up a panel to grant certain non-marital rights to same-sex couples, such as accounts in banks and pensions, healthcare, etc. Delhi-based LGBTQ+ rights activist Philip C. Philip said that with little clarity or transparency about the logistics of the panel, the offer seems hollow. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist political party, Bharatiya Janata Party, has also previously condemned the legalization of gay marriage, saying it is not “comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife and children.” With these obstacles, many LGBTQ+ Indians believe that in the short term, parliament is unlikely to support equal marriage.
In India, the LGBTQ+ community has made great strides since the 2018 ruling, including portrayals on television and in movies, as well as more representation in politics and inclusive corporate policies. However, the community says that discrimination in all forms is still rampant. Many gay couples often struggle to rent homes or make medical decisions for each other in emergencies because they cannot get married.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, some campaigners have said the judges made positive observations in their decision, for example, saying that transgender people in heterosexual relationships can marry under existing laws. Although they are small steps, they are paving the path forward for LGBTQ+ rights in India.
We can’t rest. We know what the struggle is going to be for our children. I don’t know when we will get peace for this community. – Parma, co-founder of Rainbow Parents, a collective of parents of children who identify as LGBTQ+
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1123-1125 Folsom St. will be the new home of the Stud, as well as its new drag school, in partnership with CounterPulse. Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle
San Francisco will soon be home to a school that will teach the history and fundamentals of performing drag. The school was founded by the Stud Collective (one of the oldest LGBTQ+ clubs and drag performance spaces in the US) and is partially funded by CounterPulse, a performing arts organization.
We believe and we want to make sure that the world knows that drag is a folk art that has been around for all time. As long as recorded history, as far back as the Phoenicians, there is a history of drag [...] We want to show off the beauty of San Francisco drag and the Stud’s role as a birthplace of modern drag. – Nate Albee, Stud Collective member
Anyone who is 21 and older will be eligible to enroll, including drag queens, drag kings, and nonbinary artists; all are welcome. The new school will offer history lessons, character work, lip-synching techniques, and classes that involve crafting a unique look with makeup, padding, and costumes. It will also teach students how to market oneself to promoters.
The Stud initially had plans to launch the school back in 2019 through a program at the City College of San Francisco, but they were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. It was then when the Stud decided to move out of its 399 Ninth St. home for the last 33 years, and just last month when the collective announced that it secured a new location at 1123-1125 Folsom St. The opening of the new drag school comes at a time in the US when conservative lawmakers have repeatedly attacked drag performers and implemented laws to ban drag shows across the country.
There’s a history of queer resistance that was focused particularly on gender expression in San Francisco. This act of starting a drag school is part of that tradition of resistance through creativity and celebration. – Vivvyanne ForeverMore, drag queen and Stud Collective worker-owner
Shirley McGah, founder of Shirley’s Removals, poses in front of van in London, in this undated photo. Shirley’s Removals/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Openly profiled Shirley McGah and Shirley's Removals, the moving company she co-founded, which has helped LGBTQ+ people move house for three decades, challenging discrimination and stereotypes along the way.
During the AIDS pandemic, when many people believed that AIDS was a “gay disease” and that it was transmitted through any form of contact with an infected person, Shirley McGah partnered with the Terrence Higgins Trust (the UK’s first AIDS charity) and founded the moving company “Lesbus”, now known as Shirley’s Removals, to help move people living with HIV.
McGah retired in 2016 and passed over control of Shirley’s Removals to Mangalji Boato and Wendy Robertson who pledged to continue McGah’s women-led legacy. Recently, the company has started to assist more trans people.
Last year, research by the Generation Rent and LGBTQ+ homelessness organization AKT, also known as the Albert Kennedy Trust, found that 13 percent of LBGTQ+ renters said they had experienced discrimination from a landlord, and 25 percent of trans people reported similar issues. Some common issues included unresponsive landlords or letting agencies, and unfair treatment when seeking to rent a property.
I was made aware by several potential landlords that they were uncomfortable because of being unsure of my gender. And when I clarified, they repeatedly misgendered me on one visit, or spoke only to my cisgender housemates in another. – research respondent
Boato, a trans woman, said that many trans women seek help because of constant harassment faced from neighbors or landlords. The company’s business grew through word of mouth and recommendations from family and friends , working with different organizations in the UK, Google reviews, and growing their roots with the LGBTQ+ community and other vulnerable groups.
Shirley’s Removals has now expanded to cover cities outside of London, included Manchester and Brighton, which are both popular destinations for LGBTQ+ people. Although the company started with the goal of supporting the LGBTQ+ community, especially those living with HIV, its customer base rapidly broadened to assist vulnerable people, victims of domestic violence, and the elderly.
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.