What is the body? How does the body engage with other bodies to form a community of bodies? What is the body’s first memory of artmaking? How does it connect to wellness, to health? In this edition of Curated Conversations, we had three panellists – Nisha Abdulla, Rumi Harish and Krupa – who spoke about the processes of the body, its engagement with art and the ways in which the body speaks to and of its experience.
The curator, an Applied Theatre Practitioner, Ayesha Thomas, opened the conversation by asking the panellists about their first memory of creating art. Krupa, a visual artist and Nisha Abdulla, a theatremaker practising as playwright, director, dramaturg and educator, remembered their first creations as rooted in the intuitive desire to express and explore. Rumi Harish, a trained Hindustani classical musician, recalled his first instances of musical training as excessive, stressful and coercive. “Trapped in a female body, I did not like to sing in a female voice, my dysphoria and dysphoria to music grew together,” said Rumi.
From this, we moved to discussions on the community of bodies and their interactions with each other. Abdulla was drawn to theatre, particularly, due to the collaborative nature of the practice i.e. theatre as a “team sport”. In this, Abdulla began searching for the community she would like to create, both, for and with. Her search led to findings that made her understand her need to create her own work, one that was radical in its demand of anti-oppressiveness, that looked at what she calls – “the unsupported body”. In departing from current inherited ideas of the arts, Abdullah defines her practice as one that is “cobbled-together”; one that took her a decade to build. Now, she hopes to build a community that embodies this cobbled-togetherness and makes art that resonates with the multidimensions of one’s identity.
As a visual artist whose work is centred around the exploration of the body, Krupa told us about losing her sense of connection to her body as a child. She was repeatedly told she did not “behave like a girl” due to her seemingly wayward ways. In growing up, she found something switch in her as she became fascinated with womanhood, carrying with her the distinctness of her own experience of womanhood. She spoke about exploration of the body through nudity and how nudity is always seen singularly, as sexual. In her explorations, nudeness is a way of encountering the body, one’s gender and the inner self.
Harish spoke about the intrinsic connection of music to the body. As a queer trans man, he told us about this coming-of-age feeling that came with having his voice change in the second phase of his life. “My female life along with music was like an arranged marriage – I somehow adjusted,” he recalled. When he was transitioning his voice, from October 2019 till June 2020, he lived with what he calls – a gender non-conforming voice, where he was singing at unusual and unique pitches, which for him was exciting and liberating. However, in transitioning, he has had to deal with this voice break again and again; the depths and shallows of the pitch of his voice have shifted. He has had to work to experience his voice with patience, allowing it the journey it needs to travel, at the pace at which it needs to do so.
While wrapping up the session, the panel was asked about the meaning and definition of the body – the thing we carry and the thing that carries us – how to understand it, what is it? Harish answered by saying, “There is no definition of the body. We define it ourselves. The body that you want, the kind of design in the body, the flexibility, the feel, the structure, fighting against health issues and then making the kind of body that you want, is all about you and how you want to define it.”