These portraits explore what it feels like to live in a queer body

Just wide enough to hold the weight is the group show stretching across the ‘abyss’ of being different’

The camera is such a sharp tool for exploration and portraiture is such a revealing medium, shedding light on both the subject and the photographer and their perspective on the world. a new exhibition, Just wide enough to bear the weight (at New York’s Baxter St gallery) brings together the work of three exceptional artists who use their cameras to explore all the nuances of gender identity and the complexities of the ego.

Curated by Phalguni Guliani was drawn to the work of Marvel Harris, Siddhartha Hajra and Soumya Sankar Bose because of what she describes as “their rest”. She explains: “These are not works that catch you up, the effect they have is that you are gently tapped on the shoulder with the flow of knowledge just a little bit. They don’t make themselves known, but are powerfully present in the way, say, a ray of light is.”

Although the exploration of gender is a theme underlying the exhibition, According to Guliani, this is also a door to a wider conversation. †When you enter their narrative worlds – their operatic interiors – the conversation is much wider…wide enough to bear the weight of this door that has framed it.”

The concept of weight was central to Guliani’s vision for the show. †I thought a lot about the weight of images, the weight of every little gesture you do over the course of a single day or a single lifetime,” the curator tells Dazed. “I thought about the weight of meaning, and how we throw it over an abyss of otherness, especially in photography where the inherent ‘other’ makes the image.”

The curator explains how each artist works at the intersection of the everyday and the experiences that arise while inhabiting a queer body. “With Marvel, there is a celebration of the inherent nature of our bodies to change. With Siddhartha there is a lyrality in emphasizing the elements of kinship and performativity in gender that none of us are strangers to in our everyday lives. And with Soumya’s vignettes you have a portrayal of hope and fear with a brush that to me is as alluring and as absurd as the ubiquity of modern life.”

Different and isolated by his struggle with a eating disorder, gender, autism and depressionDutch photographer Marvel Harris began turning the camera on himself to overcome his sense of alienation. When I grab my camera to shoot self-portraits, it’s usually when I don’t know how to deal with feelings like fear, loneliness, or despair about the future,” Harris tells Dazed. “I can then look at myself from a distance and prevent my negative thoughts from getting out of hand. Photography is therapeutic for me; it helps me manage my emotions, understand my own complex identity and connect with the world to me when I need it most.”

Siddhartha Hajra characterizes his work as ‘driven by instinct’ and the way in which images he has created interact with each other. The exhibition features Opera Monoramaa triptych out an ongoing series that reflects on “the opera world of transgender artist Monorama”. The New Delhi-based artist explains: “These images show a part of Monorama’s life, defined by the act she performs as a goddess along with her ensemble in urban neighborhoods. I wanted to bring out the ephemeral quality of gender as a societal construct that this transgender artist navigates.”

Soumya Sankar Bose’s work consists of documentary film and photography, collected over a period of several years in an exercise of tremendous trust and sensitivity. †When I started this project in 2014-15, homosexuality was a similar crime in India. So the people you see in these photos were very concerned about their gender identity and sexual choices, as it was a legal crime. They could not reveal their gender identity in public or even at home because homosexuality was taboo.”

Guliani concludes by encapsulating the sensitivity of the exhibition: “To me, this show is proof of grit. An early working title I had for it was “I’m Sorry I Didn’t Die,” so the feeling I’d like to take visitors with is a verse from the poem that frames the show’s entrance — that we can live, and we will. ”

Just wide enough to bear the weight can be seen at Baxter St until June 8, 2022

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