Art, as we all know, is an expression and when this expression is in the form of a performance, the term used for this form of art is Art Performance. In this form of art, an artist puts her/himself on the line to make a statement. In my case, the journey started on Friday the 13thof March 2015, when I first slipped into a skirt and did the first part of my performance.
I was wearing a shimmering skirt with a ladies shirt, hidden under the overalls. My first stop was Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVSAA). I go into the washroom, shed my overalls, and out comes a guy wearing clothes which even the bold women of the region would think twice before wearing in public. I paraded all over IVSAA, and then did the same at T2F, KOEL café, Koel Gallery, Sanat Gallery. And Fika Café.
All these spaces were taken up by surprise, all were related to fines arts, in each of these place, I would have required a proper permission to exhibit or do an art performance or even do photography.
The performance is Titled “ I am …. “ and as most of my works it was designed and conceptualized to trigger questions. Is he a guy, or a girl, do clothes define gender? gender orientation? how it feels when men are objectified? why am I doing it? What am I gaining from it? Is it a shoot, a show, or my preference of dress up ? and a lot many more questions.
Besides these questions, there was a very obvious but yet overlooked layer of vandalism in the performance. I was invading a space, doing a performance, leaving its managing team and people having their lunch baffled as to what is going on and leaving without an explanation. The layer of vandalism to point to the vandalism a woman faces every day in our society, it’s different but its there and goes very much unnoticed.
For me it was a breakthrough, I came over my fear of public performance, I came out and expressed and I could see that the questions I wanted to raise were in the minds of the people but they were too shy or may be taken back to bring them up so they remained baffled.
It was then that I decided to extend this performance further. It was just me dressing up differently. Within days I had bought a few stretch ladies pants, and some shirts which won’t be strikingly feminine but tailored for ladies, It was very tricky to select what I could wear because I didn’t want to trigger any rage or anger, but just questions. I slipped into these new clothes and walked the streets of Karachi.
A few heads were turned, I overheard comments, “ Look at his legs”, “Is he a guy ?” , “ Must be gay”. I had to be aware of my security, I had to be vigilant not to run into trouble, I had to carry a “ Normal set of overalls” A normal baggy pant and a tee shirt to cover up when I am in the “ Difficult parts of the city.
Another challenge was my being accepted, yes some of my friends started avoiding me, my own relatives started to avoid being seen in malls like this with me, a lot of artists started to laugh at me and the irony of the whole process was that I had to be tight-lipped about the fact that it’s a performance, because obviously explaining would have killed the whole purpose of it.
To step up the game another notch, as I was at the time the official photographer for Sanat Gallery, I somehow convinced the director of the gallery, Abid merchant to allow me to dress up for the show, He was not aware of the fact that A: It’s a performance, B: part of the performance is about vandalizing too.
Starting off in March 2015 each time I was covering a show a Sanat, I would dress in a bright skirt, or a shining dress, totally of a woman who may have walked right off the fashion ramp, It would show skin, it would be pink, yellow shimmery blue. and I would wear it over my body, own it along with the actual identity of my masculine gender, straight orientation, with an intention to vandalize every single show I was professionally covering in a Gallery which was paying for it.
The audience were all artists, I was laughed at, made fun of, was questioned was rumored to be gay, or belonging to the alternative gender and there were all sorts of gossips. My dresses were talked about and people waited for the nest show to see what next will I pull out of my sleeves. Sadly not many could understand or figure out that it was an expression and it was a work of art.
The performances continued till October 2016, which is when I realized I should stop because by now people had stopped questioning much and started to accept me in these dresses. And the whole purpose to trigger thoughts was fading away. It was time to end it and I decided to keep it unannounced.
I suddenly changed my ways of dressing, started wearing normal men’s clothes and that triggered yet another wave of questions? Why are you wearing men’s clothes? what happened to the man we knew? You look odd, thought that was your style. And a lot many comments and questions that followed.
I had decided to reveal the fact that it was a performance after almost one and a half years of ending the performance that I was in. two years because 1: I don’t like explaining my art, 2: some personal matters were keeping me mentally occupied and I couldn’t dissect and explain what I did 3: I wanted people to forget before I strike again and jog their memories.
I am very thankful To Sanat Gallery for allowing me to wear all those dresses while covering their shows, to Khalil Chishti for encouraging me on the first performance, to ZAK for his encouragement, and to everyone who helped me and supported me and allowed me to express freely. I apologize that none of my supports had any clue of the complete picture and scope of the performance.