November 9 2015
As the 8th London GFEST gets underway, we talk to the artistic director, Niranjan Kamatkar and his partner, Subodh Rathod, about why they set up the festival and the issue of Asian gay identity…
“Subodh and I met at the first South Asian Gay Conference in India in 1994 and during first two years of our relationship we spent time together in UK and in India working on several projects”, explained Niranjan Kamtkar, artistic director of the forthcoming Gfest 2015 that gets underway from today (November 9) to November 21.
He comes from a film and visual arts background, while Rathod is a trained Kathak performer.
Originally, they began working together on a number of multi-media projects dealing with identity politics through arts.
“We thought why not give this work the proper platform,” said Kamtkar.
The work they were doing was focused on exploring the South Asian LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) identity, as well as providing help and support to members of that community who were experiencing social and practical problems.
The charity, now called, Wise Thoughts, had its gestation in a dance company run by Subodh Rathod, called, Wise Thoughts Dance Company – an issue based dance company that explored subjects around Asian gay male identity.
The duo realised that there was a need for their work which mixed arts and creativity, along with help and support both in spirit and practice. Helping people negotiate the provision of services was essential.
Initially, they held residencies in cross art forms and created showcases, but this evolved into an under the radar premier London LGBTI Cross Art Festival that’s mainstream as well as niche, and has been going on regularly since 2007.
The festival features, films, debates, exhibitions and performances.
The focus this year is on South Asian gay identity, in light of recent events in India and the UK, says Kamaktar.
There has been the re-criminalisation of the Indian gay community due to the reinstatement of the Section 377 of Indian Penal Code; whilst in the UK there have been many examples of intolerance, not least the reaction to the admission by Shrien Diwani being as bisexual; as well as the suicide of GP, Nazim Mahmood – whose family couldn’t accept that he was gay.
The centrepiece is a Visual Arts Exhibition at the Menier Gallery London entitled Asian Future featuring the work of photographers, Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh, interdisciplinary artists, Raju Rage & Raisa Kabir and poet Maya Chowdhry.
(Read our interviews with Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh here)
There will also be a panel discussion on Saturday (November 14).
Through their work at Wise Thoughts, they are aware of the pressures faced by young Asian gay people to hide their sexuality, so are prepared to lead by example.
The couple, who live in Haringey, decided to get married on 29 March 2014 – the first day that the Same Sex Marriage was legalized and were the first Asian same sex couple to tie the knot and had their union blessed by family and friends.
“What we were trying to do is to highlight that not all the community is anti- gay, and try and present positive role models, because only through presentation of positive role models can we hope to engender change. And that’s why it was vital for us to have family and friends there,” recalled Rathod.
And as Kamatkar put it: “We lived together for 19 years in a relationship which was accepted by a large number of people around us and it was a celebration of our relationship*.”
Main picture: Ripple by Maya Chowdhry appears in “Asian Future” exhibition; Niranjan Kamatkar and Subodh Rathod