The artwork depicted in the background of the text is Sohum’s કોહીનુર, or “Britain’s Crown Jewel” (aluminum foil and marker).
કોહીનુર explores the dissection and appropriation of the queer Indian body into historical curiosities for the Western gaze, through the frame of a colonial museum exhibit. The transformation of the “Total Home” brand aluminum foil into discardable, temporary bodies references the Western construction of “Queer” and also evokes the closet, an anonymous, invisibilizing safety mechanism to protect queer bodies.
There are મહ દી (mehndi) designs on the aluminum casts of the artist’s body – a body which Indian and Western culture has deemed to reject femininity. મહ દી is a celebratory practice for the Indian ritual of marriage, a societal practice often entrenched in patriarchy, transphobia, homophobia, classism, casteism, colorism, and more. Queer and trans people must often embrace queerphobic and sexist customs to express and be recognized for their gender, gender fluidity, and queerness. This expression also must often be able to be invisibilized on a moment’s notice, in order to preserve the queer person’s safety.
It all makes one want to crumple all the aluminum casts together and toss it out.
Sohum is an Indian artist living in Providence. An annotated version of “a pilgrimage to sukumara” explaining various terms and language used in the poem is available here.