Qasim Riza Shaheen At Manchester Castlefield Gallery

By Lisa Beauchamp | 22 February 2007
two passport photographs of young man in drag

Qasim Riza Shaheen, 4 and a Half Portraits Of A Begum, 2005, piece from a photographic installation

Lisa Beauchamp enjoys a colourful and challenging exhibition at Manchester's Castlefield Gallery.

With its latest exhibition showcasing the work of Qasim Riza Shaheen, Castlefield Gallery presents us with an exciting and thought provoking exhibition.

Running until April 1 2007, Khusra: Stains and Stencils is Shaheen’s first gallery based solo show. For this exhibition Castlefield Gallery have teamed up with Shisha, the international agency for contemporary South Asian crafts and visual arts.

The show is the last of six Shisha exhibitions in Greater Manchester over a three year period including the recent Beyond the Page: Contemporary Art from Pakistan at Manchester Art Gallery.

The exhibition asks us to think about issues of identity, gender, nationality, race and faith in contemporary visual culture and taps into some of the most important debates happening in cultural, political and academic circles now.

‘Khusra’ is the term for a gay man in South Asia and derives from the term ‘khuaja sera’, meaning the hermaphrodite or castrated male, but now ‘khusra’ sits closely with the term ‘faggot’. Taking this as his starting point, the khusra community and the he-shes of Lahore are the focal point of this exhibition.

a photograph of man with a beard and long hair laying on a bed with white sheets

Qasim Riza Shaheen, In My Mother Tongue, 2006, part of a photographic installation

The work on display is the result of an extensive period of research and relationship building undertaken by the artist with the khusra community in Lahore.

As a Muslim artist living in the UK, Shaheen’s work explores the tensions and meanings of his own identity in terms of gender, race and sexuality and the exhibition features variouse mediums including video, photography, installation and performance.

It is art that asks us to think about how we make visual judgements about a person’s identity and that forces us to question our own assumptions about identities and the differences between them, be they gender, race, nationality, sexuality and ethnicity.

“The work takes the khusra communities of Lahore, the artist, his mother and the spectators into a space where gender is negotiable,” said Shaheen. “It offers an invitation to explore alternative ways of looking at one another and ourselves.”

Some of the most successful works are in a series of six individual video installations in the lower gallery space, which show the artist taking on and performing different identities reflective of the khusra community.

Enclosed in white booths a seat is provided for the viewer to watch each video and on stepping inside the viewer is made to feel very aware of their position as voyeur.

a photograph in a frame of man in drag

Qasim Riza Shaheen, They Are Gathering, 2006, part of a photographic installation

This is particularly so in the entrancing Choti (2007). In this video Shaheen appears in a pink dress staring provocatively at the viewer. Taking a piece of what looks like chocolate from a silver wrapper, Shaheen begins to eat this playing out the sexual connotations of the act of eating.

He begins to move towards the viewer and starts to undress. He removes his dress and then turns with his back to the viewer and removes the last piece of his clothing. Raising issues of desire, exoticism and the politics of the gaze Shaheen refuses our desire to pigeonhole him as either male or female.

Turning back round towards the viewer he covers his breasts and the video ends by him shutting a door and closing off our vision completely. As viewers do we desire him? Do we feel uncomfortable being the object of his seduction?

In these video installations, Shaheen maintains the viewers gaze and by doing this he is daring us to look away. The true success of these video pieces lies in how they put the viewer in an uncompromising position.

To accompany the exhibition Castlefield gallery will be running a series of events including an interventionist performance by the artist entitled Queer Courtesan on March 23.

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