Global Roundup: Kurdish Deq Tattooist, Peru Indigenous Women Dance Workshop, Queer Arab Representation, South Korea LGBT Awareness, India Sex-Education
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Adile Şavli, Zehra Arik, Saliha Özşavlı and Fatma Arik are elders from the town of Viranşehir in the Şanlıurfa province [Jaclynn Ashly/Al Jazeera]
Fatê Temel, 24, has inked hundreds of customers with deq motifs and symbols from the small one-room studio she opened in 2021 in the Sur district in Diyarbakır’s Old City, considered a historic centre for Kurdish culture. She is one of the only artists left in Turkey preserving this ancient tattooing culture. This tattooing tradition that had once been endangered has seen a resurgence among Kurdish youths, who are embracing it to express their identities.
For the Kurds, we had our own particular meanings and associations with all of these symbols and motifs – which connect us to a past that is being forgotten. Deq represents to me another aspect of our disappearing culture. And it is my duty to ensure this tradition is preserved. -Fatê Temel
Temel’s first deq, which she applied on her chin, is a symbolic motif of the sun, representing “the search for wisdom.” Each deq motif has a rich meaning behind it, which can change depending on communities and the complex ways they contextualized the designs into their own cultures and localities.
Temel stands outside her deq studio in Diyarbakır’s historic Sur district [Jaclynn Ashly/Al Jazeera]
Deq differs greatly from modern conceptions of tattooing. While today individuals often get tattoos for decoration or to memorialize events, people, or beliefs, deq is traditionally done to request abundance, protection, blessings, or fertility from God. Some women receive specific deq motifs that request protection from stillbirths during pregnancy. Deq was also used medicinally by inking dots onto the temple to assist in relieving migraines. The traditional ink used in deq varies across communities. The mixture can include green herbs, soot from lamps, and animal intestines, along with breast milk.
The process of creating the ink contains so much wisdom within itself. For example, why did the women use these specific herbs? Or why did they use the breast milk from the mother of a girl? I don’t want to give modern tattoos, I want to create deq like it was done in the past so this knowledge can truly be preserved in all of its integrity. -Fatê Temel
Temel, who has dedicated her life to researching and documenting deq symbols and motifs from various communities, at times visits with tattooed elders in the eastern villages, learning the history of the art form before she returns to her studio to once again apply the symbols onto her mostly younger customers – ensuring the culture’s survival among the next generation.
These symbols connect communities across continents, language, and identities – in ways we still don’t fully understand…We are the last generation who can preserve this culture and ensure that the knowledge of our elders does not die with them. -Fatê Temel
An Asháninka friend uses achiote, a local berry, to paint Luzmila Chiricente’s face, before the performance of Buenas Noticias. Photograph: Dan Collyns/The Guardian
In a dance workshop for members of the Asháninka, Peru’s largest indigenous Amazon group, the moves celebrate resistance while lamenting those enslaved, murdered and “disappeared” by the communist guerrilla group Shining Path, which fought the Peruvian government during the 1980s and 90s. The Buenas Noticias programme began in 2019 among bereaved women in Ayacucho, the region that bore the brunt of the violence and where hundreds live without knowing what happened to their loved ones. It was adapted for the native Amazonians this year with the help of Lima theatre company La Plaza.
Yolanda Rivera Charete, a member of the workshop, fled her community, Centro Tsovameni, with eight children in 1989 when Shining Path fighters tortured and murdered her cousin, Isaias Charete, the village leader. He says they have all been “damaged psychologically.”
I feel now that I am forgetting what happened to me. I feel calm, there is not too much worry. -Rivera Charete
Mónica Silva, associate professor in performing arts at Peru’s Pontifical Catholic University in Lima, has been a choreographer on the Buenas Noticias (Good News) programme since October. She says the initiative, started by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), helps women connect with others who suffered during the insurgency and allows younger women to understand and support mothers and grandmothers.
To touch and hold somebody, it’s not just about affection, it’s saying we are together. The young never lived the violence. This moment is the chance for the mum to talk about it. It’s not just about the dance, it’s about what happens in between the dancing. -Mónica Silva
After three weeks of rehearsal, the women are to perform publicly in an amphitheater in the town square. The dances are full of movements such as slashing with a machete, casting a fishing line and weaving.
Luzmila Chiricente, 68, is the oldest member. She is the founder of Peru’s first indigenous women’s organization, Fremank (the Regional Federation of Indigenous Asháninka, Nomatsiguenga and Kakinte Women of the Central Jungle), and says it is vital that women support each other.
For the girls who don’t know what trauma is, the terror that happened to us, they will understand [now] so that it doesn’t happen again. -Luzmila Chiricente
Adam Ali plays student Kai Sharif in Waterloo Road. (BBC/Wall To Wall/Rope Ladder Fiction) via Pink News
The original series was characterized by its melodrama – with death, affairs and scandals galore – but managed to tackle real issues facing young people. The revival will be no different, taking on topics including racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights and homelessness. Actor Adam Ali is ready to “subvert misconceptions'' with his character Kai, a queer, Muslim student and basketball player. Playing a queer character with so much “hope and optimism” has been a breath of fresh air for Ali.
For so long, whenever I did play queer characters, they had to deal with a lot. They had to be very resilient in the face of adversity. At Waterloo Road the adversity doesn’t look like homophobia or targeted abuse, there isn’t the queer tragedy story cliche at all. -Adam Ali
Ali has been keen to emphasize that despite being set in a school in Manchester, the discussions happening on the show are ones that anyone around the world can relate to. He says that there are interesting conversations between the young people regarding Black Lives Matter, racism and social injustices.
Ali has been able to give the perspective of a “queer Arab Muslim”, and getting the representation right meant he was in the writer’s room from day one. Some of the decisions included making the character Arab, with Ali suggesting the name Kai Sharif in homage to groundbreaking Egyptian actor Omar Shairf. Most of all he wanted boys across the country just like Kai to know that there are others like them out there.
I wanted to make sure that we didn’t fall into any of those tropes, or those holes or those traps. And of course, no one’s better to do that than me because it is a lived experience. -Adam Ali
Ali hopes LGBTQ+ Muslims can find him a source of inspiration behind the screen as well.
Growing up Muslim some people have you believe that queer people are destined to have a life of unhappiness and sadness. I’m 23, thriving, successful, surrounded by people that love me, my career is popping off. Don’t come for us. Queer people that are Muslim and actually embrace both their queerness and their faith live a really beautiful life because it’s nuanced. -Adam Ali
Heezy Yang performs at events in South Korea as Hurricane Kimchi photo by KIM MOONYANG via BBC
Yang tried drag for the first time after seeing friends do it and realized it could be a tool to combine his activism and love of the arts.
The first few times I didn't have any agenda. I did it for fun. The more I did drag, the more I performed, I could see how I could use it and how I could enjoy it. -Heezy Yang
South Korea has no anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people and same-sex marriage is not recognized. Being LGBT is often seen as a disability or mental illness. Some powerful conservative churches consider being gay or trans a sin. Yang says that both drag and LGBT culture is still new to older generations who can often be confused, but younger Koreans are more aware of drag culture. He sees the positive influence drag can have when attending smaller pride events in cities that might not have a widely established LGBT scene.
The crowds are smaller, but it means that young people get to experience the festivities and be a part of the LGBT community.
Yang also likes to bring LGBT issues to people's attention, choosing to take part in protests while in drag, and bringing awareness to the government's policies towards the community.
I'm a bearded queen and I don't always do sexy, trendy performances. I like to do protest and political performances as well. It's also important for me to give back to the community and be supportive to other people in the community. -Heezy Yang
Yang's love of drag and the idea of representing it on a bigger scale led him to co-create Seoul Drag Parade in 2018. The parade was held online during the pandemic but it is hoped that this year it will return to an in-person event. Yang aims to host it in Itaewon, an area of Seoul that has a number of LGBT-owned bars. The area has been hit financially by the pandemic and more recently, the Itaewon crush in which 159 people died. A number of LGBT businesses are struggling financially as visitor numbers diminished. Ultimately, Yang’s focus is on continuing his drag and bringing the community together.
Sometimes on social media I get messages and comments from people thanking me for the events that I host and the fact I make my events accessible and friendly. I like to think I open doors for people and they appreciate it. It makes me happy. -Heezy Yang
Leeza Mangaldas, sex education content creator and author of The Sex Book: A Joyful Journey of Self-Discovery. Photograph: Palash Verma via The Guardian
Leeza Mangaldas is a sexuality education content creator and the author of The Sex Book: A Joyful Journey of Self-Discovery. She says that in India, an ordinary woman talking about sex knowledgably and without shame was unfamiliar and transgressive to most people. She would regularly get asked if she was a doctor or a porn star.
It’s hard to escape the message that anything outside this oppressive and narrow framework, particularly unmarried women having sex, queer sex, paid sex, sex with more than one partner, and even masturbation, is bad, dirty, weird, punishable. We’re discouraged from even talking about sex, let alone questioning these beliefs, because, well, “log kya kahenge?” (what will people say?) -Leeza Mangaldas
For Mangaldas, as a young, unmarried Indian woman trying to navigate her own sexuality, sexual health and relationships, there was no easily accessible and culturally relevant information about sex. This inspired her to start her digital sex-education platforms five years ago. Today, her videos reach millions of young Indians every day. But short-form video and audio formats have their limitations, so she wrote The Sex Book: A Joyful Journey of Self-Discovery because she wanted to create a more comprehensive, culturally contextualized, inclusive, pleasure-focused sex education resource for young Indians that felt friendly and honest rather than preachy and text-bookish.
The combination of the societal shame and stigma with the lack of accurate information at best results in generations of clueless young people left to figure out everything for themselves, from how to have safe sex to how to have an orgasm. At worst, it results in women being killed for not bleeding on their wedding night, and queer teens being sent to quacks to be “cured” by conversion practices. -Leeza Mangaldas
Mangaldas feels hopeful about the increasing number of people, mainly women and those identifying as LGBTQ+, beginning to create education, art, activism, cinema, comedy and music that challenges dominant heteronormative, sexist, endogamous ideas. However, she says that even with significant changes to the law, such as the decriminalization of gay sex, as well as globally significant movements like #MeToo, changes in the Indian mindset are slow and incremental. She hopes that society and the government begin to understand the importance of comprehensive, inclusive sex education and how it contributes to gender equality, improved sexual and reproductive health and rights, and ending sexual- and gender-based violence.
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.