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Playing Gender: Asma Kazmi
January 15, 2016 - February 27, 2016
Playing Gender engages a subaltern section of modern Indian society—cross-dressed biological men, eunuchs, or hermaphrodites, who are known traditionally as hijras. The hijras exist on the fringes of Indian society, tolerated only in the specific roles of beggars, ritual performers, or homosexual prostitutes. They can be seen in drag, gathered for marriages and birth celebrations, singing and dancing to drums and claps, to songs from the latest popular films.
Kazmi draws upon the writing of Judith Butler who believes that gender is not what one is born with; rather gender is what one puts on and performs daily. For the hijras, drag serves as the vehicle to continually realize a set of nonconforming possibilities, deliberately tempered by the pleasures and play of cross-dressing. It is this kind of gender theatricality and the hijra’s ability to construct the feminine through playful repetition that drew Kazmi to this segment of Indian society. She spent the summer of 2009 working with three hijras in New Delhi, learning the conventions of gender parody. The culmination of their interactions/synergy resulted in a performative event in which the hijras had the sole agency for constructing scenarios that included both Kazmi and them. By embodying the artifice of the hijras, she wanted to embrace the parodic practice of gender construction. Her lived identity as a heterosexual female is awkwardly visible throughout the work.
Asma Kazmi creates transdisciplinary, relational works where people, media, and objects come together. She is the recipient of many awards including the Fulbright Research Award, (CIES) to India; the Faculty Research Grant, CalArts; the Great Rivers Biennial by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Rocket Grant, the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art at Kansas University; At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago Award, the University of Illinois in Chicago; and the Creative Stimulus Award, Critical Mass for the Visual Arts, St. Louis. She has exhibited at venues such as the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA; Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City; Queens Museum of Art, NY; Worth Ryder Gallery, UC Berkeley; Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis; H&R Block Space, Kansas City; Grand Arts, Kansas City; University of Missouri, St. Louis; Hunt Gallery, Webster University, St Louis; Boots Contemporary Art Space, St Louis; The Guild Gallery, New York; Galerie Sans Titre, Brussels, Belgium; and Gallery 400, University of Illinois in Chicago.
Kazmi has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Kansas City Art Institute, and the University of California, Berkeley. Currently, she is co-director and permanent faculty of the Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts. She was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. To find our more please visit: asmakazmi.com