Coolitude: An Afternoon of Indo-Caribbean Art and Literature

The term “Coolitude” was originally coined by Mauritian poet Khal Torabully,the aesthetics of which are defined as the articulation of the imaginaries of mosaic India and other human and cultural spaces. Starting from the derogatory word for indentured South Asian laborers, “coolie”, which he revitalized, Torabully extended it to geographical and cultural migrants throughout the world. His poetry voiced the need of relation between the descendants of the emancipated slaves and the indentured, allowing interplay with other cultures, thus clearly constructed far from essentialism or an exclusive “nostalgia of the origins”.

The Queens Museum is proud to explore current Indo-Caribbean writers and artists who are turning to the history of indenture as muse and subject for interrogation in their own work. The multi-media event combines a reading from Gaiutra Bahadur’s book Coolie Woman, sculptural performance by artist Andil Gosine, performance poetry by Rajiv Mohabir, and a screening of Ian Harnarine’s short film “Doubles with Slight Pepper.” The presentations will culminate in a panel discussion with the artists moderated by Lisa Outar, a scholar of post-colonial literature focused on Indo-Caribbean representation.

About the Presentations

In Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture, author Gaiutra Bahadur traces the journey of her great-grandmother from India to the West Indies as an indentured sugar plantation laborer, whose kind were called “coolies” by their colonial masters. After the abolition of slavery, the British transported more than a million indentured Indians to a more than a dozen colonies from 1838 to 1917, a traffic that was a third the size of the British slave trade. Among the workers rounded up and shipped across the globe, in cargo holds known as ‘tween decks where they were subject to sexual exploitation, were a quarter million women. Coolie Woman tells the story of their transfiguring voyages, in traumatic “middle passages” from Calcutta to the Caribbean. Gaiutra Bahadur is an American journalist and book critic who writes frequently about the culture and politics of global migration. Her reportingcriticism and essays have appeared in The New York Times Book ReviewWashington Post Book WorldThe NationThe Virginia Quarterly ReviewThe (London) Observer and Ms., among other publications.

Andil Gosine is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies/Sociology at York University in Toronto, where he created and teaches a course about the contemporary cultures of Indo-Caribbean diasporas. His many publications consider questions about environmental justice, sexual politics and intimacy, and have appeared in Art in America, Topia Journal of Cultural Studies, Masculinities, Canadian Woman Studies, Alternatives Journal and in several scholarly anthologies. He also edited the groundbreaking “Sexualities” edition of the Caribbean Review of Gender Studies. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Gosine’s art practice includes WARDROBES, a collection of precious metal and textile objects that explored the legacies of Indian indentureship to the Caribbean. WARDROBES was presented as a series of art performances over the last two years, including (Made In Love) at the ICA Gala in Queens in 2013, and was featured in the Richard Fung documentary Dal Puri Diaspora. He will present and introduce his newest sculptural-performance, Our Holy Waters and Mine at “€œCoolitude.”€

Poet Rajiv Mohabir, presents the performative poem “€œRivers” which is printed on a dupatta, a traditional Indian scarf. Collaborating with artisans in Sanganer, Jaipur, the poem appears in Guyanese Bhojpuri, Guyanese Creole, and in English. The poem was first published in Word Masala and Saw Palm.  He will also be performing from his new series of “Chutney Poems,” a new type of formal poem/folksong whose structure he has borrowed from Sundar Popo. Rajiv, a VONA and Kundiman fellow,  is the author of the chapbooks na bad-eye me (Pudding House Press, 2010) and na mash me bone (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Having received his MFA in creative writing and literary translation from Queens College, CUNY his work is published or forthcoming in literary journals such as Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken BoatGreat River Review, Assacarus, Anti- Chicago Poetry, Lantern Review, Four Way Review, Kartika Review, and Saw Palm he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010. Rajiv was the Editor in Chief for the Ozone Park Journal from 2012-2013 run by the MFA students at Queens College. An American Institute of Indian Studies language fellow (2011-2012), he  hosted the radio show KAVIhouse on JusRadio, a program devoted to poetries of South Asia and its Diasporas. Currently he is a PhD candidate at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa.

Doubles with Slight Pepper (Written & Directed by Ian Harnarine) is a short film set in rural Trinidad,  where Dhani struggles to support himself and his mother by selling doubles (Trinidad’s quintessential street food). When his estranged father returns from Canada unexpectedly, Dhani must decide if he will help save his father’s life despite their strained relationship. Ian Harnarine was born in Toronto and studied physics at York University and the University of Illinois. He has an MFA from NYU’s Film School where he now teaches along with the Physics Department. His short film “Doubles With Slight Pepper”, won the Best Short Film Award at Toronto International Film Festival and the Canadian Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Ian is co-writing Time Traveler with Spike Lee, an adaptation of David Chariandy’s novel “Soucouyant” and a feature adaptation of “Doubles With Slight Pepper”. Recently, Ian was selected by Filmmaker Magazine as one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” and profiled in the New York Times.

Lisa Outar researches and teaches Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean literature as well as, more broadly, postcolonial literature. She has a B.A. from Princeton University and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Chicago. She specializes in writings by and about Indo-Caribbeans. Her work has appeared in The South Asian Review, The Caribbean Journal of Education, South Asian History and Culture, The Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, Stabroek News, South Asian Diaspora and in the edited collections, Beyond Windrush: Rethinking Postwar West Indian Literature and South Asian Transnationalisms. She recently coedited a special issue of The Caribbean Review of Gender Studies that focused on Indo-Caribbean Feminisms and is currently completing a manuscript about the production of the category of Indianness within discourses of nationalism, creolization and diasporic identity in the Caribbean and its various diasporas.

Co-Presenting Organizations

Jahajee Sisters is a movement-building organization, led by Indo-Caribbean women in Queens,  that foster solidarity and empowerment through dialogue, arts, leadership development and grassroots organizing.

Rajkumari Cultural Center is a multi-arts organization revitalizing the cultural and artistic life of Caribbean and South Asian immigrant communities through grassroots organizing, research-based education programs and public performances. Artistic skills, innovation and craftsmanship emerge through year-round interaction with custodians,  master-artists, scholars and tradition-bearers working with community youth and families in an inter-generational space.

Urban+Out was founded in 2011 to support community involvement, cultural engagement, and professional development in LGBTQ communities of color.  From a conversation between friends at a Brooklyn restaurant one wintry night through our first full year of regular programming in 2013, Urban+Out has developed distinct programming models, held events in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC, and has engaged more than 1,000 urban professionals.

Indo-Caribbean Alliance is a non-profit organization based in Queens, New York.  Founded in 2008 by three residents who wanted to organize their community to advocate for the creation of programs and services in the underserved Indo-Caribbean  and South Asian enclaves of South Queens including Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, Ozone Park, South Jamaica and Jamaica.

 

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