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Ali Asgar
Artist

Dhaka, Maine
December 13, 2017

Ali Asgar is a transdisciplinary artist and cultural producer whose work focuses primarily on the body and the relationship between body and space. The controversial and politically charged nature of their work – exploring gender and eroticism – exposed them to significant risk in their home city of Dhaka, where they staged provocative street performances and gallery exhibitions intentionally designed to challenge the conservative sexual mores of the culture. As an artist, whose provocative art and personal identity placed them at extreme risk, Asgar was awarded an Artist Protection Fund Fellowship in 2016 and is currently working on an MFA in Intermedia at the University of Maine. They earned a BFA in Printmaking from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka and participated in major group exhibitions including the 2014 and 2016 Dhaka Art Summits, the 2016 Kolkata International Performance Festival, the 2014 Dhaka Social Art Festival and the Asian Art Biennial. Earlier this year, Asgar was one of the leading speakers and a featured artist at the PEN World Voice Festival in New York City. They are participating in 7a-11d’s 7a*md8 – LIVE STREAM performance art event happening this Thursday, December 14 and continuing until Saturday. (Photo: Rebekah Dahlia)

1. The state of otherness

I have a feeling/question every morning when I wake up in my bed: Where I am? Every time my body steps outside, the state of otherness dominates my interactions with people around me. Is it a state of disconnection also? This struggle of wanting to be connected with the dominant culture makes me inferior. I am continuously searching to find a way to get along with my otherness. Should I try more or should I just accept the fact I will be othered everywhere? (!)

2. Our country is our body

I have survived my body (a sexualized body persona) from Bangladesh to the USA. I have lost my native land and still look for a land to accept my body, my queerness. But also, this state of not having a country (the country as a physical territory) is not only my story; there is a linked story to my family and many of my friends in today’s global context. As one of my friends told me one day: “Our country is our body.” This statement makes me thinks about the anxiety of a selfhood and whether a body could be a symbol of transnationalism. I am re-reading The Country Without a Post Office by Agha Shahid Ali. This surreal, poetic text based on the reality of Kashmir has moved my mind to think more about my friend’s statement and our notions of country, border, and body.

3. Sex, terror, and the nation state

In the context of 2017/2018 contemporary America, I am thinking more and more about the rise of ethnic nationalism, anxieties with borders, and the violence against LGBTQ people around the world. How does the global war influence our sex/sexuality? Are gender identity, LGBT rights, and aggressive nationalism interconnected? How is the rise of religious nationalism in South Asia entangled with American politics and policy? What about the notion of desire and border, queer anxieties with borders, and how we claim and control these territories? How is the Global LGBTQ community facing and surviving the threats of terror (both internal and external)?

4. Art as a mode of survival

Over the past few years, I have survived through my art (or non-art). Producing new work and looking for new ideas becomes a part of my survival mechanism where the goal is not always so clear. As I say: “I make art to survive; it’s not a luxury for me anymore.” This commitment to producing/performing/creating/thinking/establishing new ideas has become a key driving force to move forward, where sometimes, but not necessarily, I am always looking to achieve something. I know I have to do it to survive and making art has become an instinct for me.

5. The radicalism of living rural

After growing up in a dense mega-city like Dhaka, moving to rural Maine was something I never could have imagined. Distancing myself from known city comforts (which are always desirable) and living radically by choice in rural isolation makes me think about the politics of access. I am learning how a rural, white dominated, socially unaware, disengaged from the bigger part of the world community perceives brown queer suffering and helps them to radicalize their work in an exchange for institutional access, white discomfort, and racial tokenization. Living radical in rural Maine is the quintessential American experience for reading the minds of white nationalist American patriarchal society more intensely.

 

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