A few days ago I read an article about the fact that recently the court in India criminalized homosexuality as India’s Colonial-era homosexuality law did it 100 years ago. This is constitutional, they said. It‘s a shame in the world’s most populous democracy and it made me think of my time in south Asia this year and a performance I saw in early October in Cologne.
If you ever had the chance to travel in a south-Asian country like India or Bangladesh you may have noticed a member of the “Hijra“-community: men, dressed as women, walking around a crowded train, clapping their hands and begging for money – because they are prohibited from pursuing a normal profession, some of them also have to prostitute themselves. But to live as a Hijra in south Asia is not the same as the life of a transident person in western countries. In Angie Hiesls performance “ID-Clash“, which was staged in Cologne, transident persons from Germany, Brazil and Cuba met two Hijras from Bangladesh.
I was excited to see the performance as I had the chance to work with the Hijras Annonya and Katha during my time in Bangladesh at the Goethe-Institut and I was curious about the fusion of these different cultures particularly concerning the transgender issues.
In contrast to an understanding of transsexuality as a term for a human being who was born in the wrong body, a “Hijra” is not just a person with the “wrong gender“, it is a “third gender“ she represents. Traditionally they performed the duty of blessings in everyday life, as on weddings, housewarmings or childbirth, but since the times of colonization they were criminalized. And as you could see, even in India a Colonial-era law is not easy to destroy nowadays as well as such a medieval attitude. The conditions under which Hijras have to suffer in their home country are different and their lives are characterized by more than prejudices, they have to fear persecution and additionally they have a complete different cultural background.
“ID-Clash” was a performance which stated to show different characters from different cultural backgrounds and given to the special circumstances of Bangladeshis, they allowed extra space and time for the Hijras during these performance.
It took place in a nursery in Cologne-Poll, right next to a graveyard and the German association for technical inspection (TÜV). Great place for a side specific transgender-performance, which started not in time, but had taken a long time till it’s end. On that pretty cold early October day I was wondering why Waseka, the Hijra’s assistant, wore a Sari, the whole time during the almost one and a half hour performance. „They told me to“, she said when I asked her, and shrugged her shoulders.
More than prejudices…
The Hijras, Michelle from Germany, Greta from Brazil and Melissa from Cuba and started together in a greenhouse, planting colorful items in flowerpots. After that, Michelle went to her greenhouse where she wrote her story, which simultaneously was projected to a screen and in between she cut off some suits and hung on some dresses. Melissa went to a small glasshouse with a red couch (okay…) and talked about her story (of course). But Greta, who works in the erotic sector throughout Europe, just went to the same greenhouse in which Melissa sat and undressed herself to have a shower. You had to bend down to watch them and get a closer look on Greta’s big penis. That was probably the reason why the performance was age-restricted. But it had something of a peeping-tom-situation, while Melissa was sitting in a glasshouse and threw the stones of her story, you had the feeling of a sneak-preview that encourages your curiosity while watching the other girls in their greenhouses.
The simultaneity of the performances as well as the location (a nursery! Between a graveyard and TÜV!) underlined the „clash“ of cultures, moral values of society. The personal struggle of each transident person in the context of growing and gardening was obvious.
Peeping–Tom in a greenhouse
Fair enough, but there is one point in the Hijra’s performance I didn’t get in that context: They planted, they read out their story, they changed their clothes from nice Salwar Kameezes to beautiful Sarees, hung the garments on a fence, planted hammers and put condoms on them, they fought, they cooked and they looked beautiful while on two screens simultaneously the streets of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka and it’s noisy traffic were projected. They showed their everyday life in- and outside a greenhouse, surrounded by typical Asian objects like hand fens and cookware. It was in a remarkable way longer, more colorful and noisier than all the other performances together.
Rainbow warriors of exotic Asia…
Given to the special situation of a Hijra in Asia and the fact that in Europe only a few people know about it, it was right and proper to give them more space and time. But why distract the audience with hand fens and cookware, lots of clothes and a life-cook-show at the end? Yes, life in Bangladesh looks entirely different to a life in Europe, but not only a Hijra cooks with this kind of a pan. And how different from our life is life in Brazil? I don’t know, I’ve never been there and the one who could have told us something about it just got naked.
The performance of the Hijras was not about their personal story and their struggle: For a European who has never been to Bangladesh it was a rainbow-show. Okay they put on condoms over hammers and they also worked with potting soil but all the rest? Unnecessary if you want to get the point. It was a show of exotic Asia! And in contrast to the „close-to-the-point“ and „filled-with-controversial-content“ performances of the others, unfair given to the Hijra’s real struggle in countries where homosexuality is criminalized with punishments which are not at all justifiable!
Angie Hiesl had some good points in her performance project, but what came in her way was her love for Christmas tree decoration. For my eyes the ID-Clash became a crash of decoration. And the stripper got naked. Merry Christmas!