Guest Curator Reeta Loi joins us to talk about the importance of platforming South Asian LGBTQIA+ voices, the intention behind Freedom as a theme and the healing nature of art and spoken word in the lead up to this month’s Spoken Space: Freedom on 23 Jun
Reeta Loi, Guest Curator for Spoken Space: Freedom
As Spoken Space returns to Tara Theatre, this event has been titled Freedom; what made you choose freedom as the title of this event?
I chose Freedom as the theme for this event because as LGBTQ+ people of the South Asian diaspora, we all have stories about our personal and shared path to freedom. India only removed legislation that criminalised LGBTQ+ people as recently as 2018 while we have a long way to go in much of the rest of South Asia. Meanwhile, the rights of trans people in the UK are under constant attack by the Government and media, which leads to us being at risk outside and even within our own homes. Then we have the conversion therapy ban that has yet to be rolled out. This is all without saying that for most of the South Asian diaspora in the UK, our path to the UK is rooted in displacement caused by partition and warfare and many of us are from caste oppressed groups. Given all this, I think we have a lot to say.
How does this theme of freedom tie into the performances you’ve curated?
I wanted to start by giving each artist total freedom to explore the theme and their chosen art form and express without any confines. The theme may sound positive, but we don’t arrive at freedom without struggle, and it is this struggle that connects us. There is vulnerability in the journey; freedom and struggle are a constant dance, there is no real point of arrival. Everything around us is in a constant state of change, freedom lies in how we deal with this fact, in our state of mind. This is what makes the theme deeply personal for each of us. My own journey to freedom came from great loss and I feel our lives are microcosms of what is happening in the world around us.
Tell us a little bit about Gaysians and their work.
Gaysians is a platform that has worked to provide positive visibility and support for South Asian LGBTQ+ people in the UK and Internationally for over 6 years. It wasn’t that long ago that most of us had no way to meet other queer South Asians so much of our work was in connecting people to each other and helping people find support through charities and meet ups. We have a network of over 30 organisations working in mental health, housing support, faith support, trans charities and much more that we promote and connect. A core focus for us is also in helping highlight the voices in our community, hence partnering with Tara Theatre for this event.
As Founder & CEO of Gaysians – a movement dedicated to highlighting South Asian LGBTQIA+ voices – how do events like Spoken Space intersect with the language and identity of queer artistry?
Finding safe spaces for us to share and be vulnerable is a great challenge. As an artist, the spaces I was performing spoken word in 20 years ago weren’t queer or Asian. Queer spaces were often racist, while Asian spaces can even now be the least safe spaces for us with homophobia so rife within our own community.
With increasing issues around our safety as visibly queer-presenting folks of colour in the UK, to find spaces that will give us the space and support to share, connect and heal is truly a gift.
In terms of language and identity I feel like Tara Theatre has been progressive, caring and supportive for myself as the curator and for the artists performing and I look forward to seeing how this impacts the show. I’m excited for the nurturing space we are creating together for LGBTQ+ South Asians.
How would you describe this event in three words?
Connecting, Healing, Liberating!
What can audiences expect on the night at Spoken Space: Freedom? Who’s going to be performing and what are they like?
Each artist happens to represent a different set of identities across the South Asian LGBTQ+ diaspora, but I chose them because of shared values and their unique talents. These are some of the most exciting artists on the scene right now, irrespective of how they identify.
Ashling O’Shea is an actor and many people will be aware of her TV work on shows like Hollyoaks. I’m excited to see her perform a monologue especially for this event where she has the freedom to express herself in ways we may not be used to seeing.
Jasmine Qureshi is an exceptional poet who I’ve been really impressed by on the circuit. There is a rawness to her work that I’m keen to see come to life at Tara Theatre with the thread of freedom running through it. What journey will we be taken on by someone who is multi-dimensional and also centres ecology and the planet in their work?
Taryn is a super talented multi-instrumentalist and producer who will be performing their gorgeous, layered sounds for us in their set as well as jamming with the house band on the night. Again, I’m curious to see what this young queer Tamil artist will have to share as they explore the theme of freedom.
Anoushka Khandwala will be hosting and as an artist and writer disrupting coloniality in the arts, whilst bringing joy into the space, I couldn’t think of anyone better to connect the audience and performers.
What are you most excited to see?
Ha, I’m very excited to see what everyone has to share and to get us all together in the space! I think it’s going to be uplifting and powerful and performing with a live band is going to help us raise the roof!