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Charan Singh

Research Project Title: Going Sideways: The Poetics of Becoming-Queer in India

Superviser(s): Professor Johnny Golding, Professor Olivier Richon

Charan Singh’s research and practice are informed by his development as a gay man who became closely involved with HIV/AIDS work and ‘queer’ community activism and how that influenced queer identity politics in India. His that uses the mediums of photography, video and text to explore his 'pre-English language' life to creates artistic resistance through storytelling and fictional fragments to express multi-layered gender experiences and the ephemeral nature of queer desire. His work reclaims subaltern queer identities, sub-cultures that has been defined mainly as victims. While refusing to form of subjugation it investigates the institutionalised modes of knowledge productions that are stained with colonial past and are being overshadows by neo-colonial narratives in India.

Liberation movements based on identity present themselves with enormous challenges regarding rights and inequalities. The Indian public health response to HIV/AIDS resulted in foregrounding the existing identity ‘Kothi’ and adopting a behavioural category called ‘MSM’ to designate the main beneficiaries of aid (Cohen, 2005) (Puri, 2016). This underprivileged part of the population was consequently provided with victim narratives which explains why it is impossible to render its stories without pathos. Linked to a quest for emancipation, identity is a complex category especially in post-colonial nation-states like India. Here identities are unavoidably entangled with other modes of governance such as religion, caste, class, and the law. The socioeconomic and geopolitical realities of the Kothis confine them to HIV/AIDS discourse (Kapur, 2018), where they continue to be labelled as subaltern queers (Narrain, 2004). Failing to embrace the specificities of identities, this discourse erases differences and inevitably undermines the very creative and liveliness of what can become queer.

Going Sideways is a practice-led inquiry that problematises the neo-liberal, neo-colonial approaches to identity politics, while resisting the sense of concerted queerness that occurred in the form of already-known prescriptions to assimilate all subjects of desire in India, thereby discounting historical and social inequalities.Going sideways offers a threefold framework which builds its artistic resistances through critical fabulation (Hartman, 2008) and storytelling (Benjamin, 1999, Arendt, 1998; Cavarero, 2000) as minor forms of literature (Deleuze and Guattari,1986) that in-turn demand a listening-encounter (Golding, 2018) which enables a queer possibility, a leap into the future (Muñoz, 2009). The threefold braid consists of stories that function as an auto-collective-biography of the Kothis, a glossary as a non-closed, living-breathing archive that politically and conceptually binds this thesis, and a moving image work which helps to visualise this project empathetically, but also creates a political bent. This project seeks creative ecstasy through storytelling which prepares for an encounter to happen. Together these aphoristic approaches create a gentler ‘knowledge-system’ as a ‘rehearsal,’ invoking the essence of becoming. It allows a queer-wisdom to be shared, and its orality enables us to hear the mumble of the unvoiced. Sideways thinking has an erotic energy which brings us to life in a queer way, without being categorised. This work also marks an urgency to rethink identity politics subversively, by inhabiting a path that is always-already sideways. It is a work of love and friendship, that calls for radical and ethical equality. This resituates the poetics of Queer-Becoming in the field of emergence, where one can imagine new ways of encounters in a queer multiverse.

Among Four Friends: Conversations Before and in a Hospital Waiting RoomIn this immersive story, artist and activist Charan Singh explores the fluid nature of language and identity as mediated through the economy, education, and social locations that are not central to most conversations about HIV/AIDS.
Photographic Rehearsal: A Still-Unfolding NarrativeHow might photography illuminate the complexities of identities obscured and even erased by the legacies of empire that have shaped the very language within which we come to know and name our desires? In this work, I consider the overlaps and contexts in which multiple identities can be claimed despite the challenges that a dominant English language culture poses for expressions of gender and sexuality.
Lover's QuarrelIn this dialoging work two lovers are rehearsing for their love and failing at the same time. This text accompanies a glossary on love, that is made up of several attempts on the subject from different viewpoints. ​ PROVA 4, School of Arts and Humanities Research Journal, Royal College of Art, 106-109.
I Swallow Your Pride I Swallow Your Pride, is a confession to the diary of protagonist who lives in an Indian city. In which he talks about his desires, lust and laments. This text is written in diary-form as part of the solitary pleasure symposium that later was extended and included in the catalogue.


Kothi, 2016This works explores childhood memories of encountering autobiographical events of three individual. This work illustrated the idea that when one felt different; that difference was not always easy to describe. ​
Garden of Eros, 2017This image and text work describe a typical day at a cruising park in Delhi. encountering other men man’s perspective who is visiting this park for the first time. Locations such as these were frequently visited by HIV/AIDS workers distributing safer-sex leaflets.
They Called it Love, But Was it Love?This artist film depicts scenes from the lives of Kothis living in India. Reduced to a “risk group” by public health campaigns and misunderstood through Western notions of gender and sexuality, these protagonists have real lives and inhabit unique worlds with their own quests for fulfilment and love.
interruption poeticsTo keep the discussion sideways, I have used interruption poetics. I consider them a critical tool to remain incomplete in a queer-way and which also infuses the possibility of rehearsal. They function as a doorstopper (or opener), which not only add a nuanced perspective to the ongoing discussion but also provide cultural perspectives. Sometimes they are about a dimension that I want to emphasise, but on some occasions, they are the dimension that had been unnoticed.