Nila Gupta talks to Texta Queen about mutual support within a setting for artists who identify as crip and crazy QTIBPoC artists.
[music playing, acoustic guitar and singing in Hindi]
Jabtak Hai baaki, seene mein dum
Gaaenge ae zaalim, wapas jao jao jao
we will sing relentlessly
go back, go, go
Oh oppressor, go back!
Nila: Hello and welcome. My name is Nila Gupta, Im a South Asian artist, organiser and writer based in London..
Today I’m going to be talking to Texta Queen about organising and connecting crip and crazy QTIBPoC artists. And rather than talk about Texta, I’m going to invite them to introduce themselves.
Texta: Hi yes. I’m Texta Queen, I’m also delighted to be here with you. I’m a visual artist who is queer, non-binary, femme, disabled with chronic pain, living on the unceded lands of the Kulin Nation in so-called Melbourne. I make a lot of art about identity and the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and looking forward to this conversation.
Nila: The music you just heard is ‘Wapas Jao’, it’s a Hindi version of Bella Ciao, which is an Italian 1930s anti-fascist song that is used in social movements all around the world. Hindi and Bengali an Kashmiri etc versions of this have been sung and recorded on protests against the Indian state over the last couple of year. And I thought of this in relation to our conversation, because it’s a really lovely example of how political connection and collective spirit can work translationally, across history, culture and borders. So today we’re going to be talking about how we want to organise as QTIBPoC crip and crazy artists around the world. Thank you.
Texta: I feel like I want to just start with talking about like informal support networks. And what the idea behind having a more formalised one is? And yes, for me, you know, like, I want to be creating something that has, in many ways been created on other tangents for a long time, and is really like, inspired – to use that word – inspired by my time in Oaklands. I was there from 2012 for like about four years. And it was really at a time where there… I just really had access to this like burgeoning, disability, creative, care networks… and things burgeoning. And, you know, and seeing, like, the creative outcomes of that kind of stuff with Sins Invalid. And while I didn’t actually see a Sins Invalid show, or maybe I saw one… but like saw a lot of performers who perform in Sins Invalid. And yeah like, that kind of thing. But just doing something that a lot of people have been doing tangents of, for a while.
Care networks, but a part of like, making something more formal would be also that I’m – just to sort of like, build on those exchanges to like, you know, I think in Raju Rage’s letter… talks about process-based learning and to just like accumulatively… yeah, just feel that without it necessarily… when it’s really informal then often it’s the most… collaboration and creation is all sort of outcome based. And if this is a network… especially, you know, like during the pandemic I was applying for this idea of doing this crip and crazy peer support network with a funding body to fund four artists: me, Carolyn Lazard, Syrus Marcus Ware and Raju Rage to to meet once a month and have like Visual Studio visits and just support each other with creating for existing or surviving and not necessarily outcome based. I went into the application being like okay, what project can we can we do together and Carolyn was on was actually like, I just want to connect to you have a, you know, to default artists who have disabilities and and I was like, yeah, actually, I do. What am I springing into planning and other projects when I’m just like, trying to et.,
Like, I’m processing so much in the pandemic and out of it. And, yeah, it’s just how something more formal that’s like, um, more, more but still not outcome based. That is. Yeah, just checking in and, and building on that and maybe having these kind of conversations like we’re having. And with the potential outcome of more formally written resources off just how each of us are creating and coping and surviving in and out of the unique circumstances of the pandemic that aren’t that unique as in you know, being the kid of immigrants with a very busy-aholic mother and a workaholic dad […] It’s been a real challenge to enjoy the process of creation. And like, it’s freakin’ ridiculous. And I can look at my own art and be like, oh, look, it’s so joyful and colourful and out there. And I was so stressed making that because I had this deadline. And I was just the whole time I was like… ok, I haven’t done … and my work is so intricate that like, I can work on it a day and it and it doesn’t look that much different, you know, and so, and my works on paper will take months to make.
So it’s just really like, and I would never validate the process of of my art. I still like just only just coming to validating… and not even validating, but enjoying the process of making it. And you know, I’m doing a little… and I was just catching myself being like a bit, being judgmental of myself. But, just mixing the paints and then I was like, “oh, wait, it this is so pleasant” like… just pouring some blue into red and then like stirring it around and like this is an enjoyable process. I don’t have to be like, am I gonna, and I have two days to make it… like I’m just still in my head being like (*sighs*) ‘ ok got all these things to do before the mural’ rather than ‘this is a really fun thing right now’.
Nila: It’s an outreaching pleasure, it’s a sensory pleasure and it’s not replaceable by anything else, but you can’t watch someone mixing paint and get the same… It’s a physical sensory sound, soft smell touch thing. It’s really easy to lose. And particularly well for me at least this is a thing I don’t know how general it is. But because some of my disabilities fuck up my ability to appreciate things sensorally, so there are periods when food is not very appealing. And that’s distressing, but it’s also one of my kind of creative sensory, joy things. And not worrying about: is the thing going to taste nice but just going ‘oh, right, when you toast some spices, they crackle and they smell nice. And that’s just a nice thing to do’. ,
Texta: I mean and that’s what, like, having a peer exchange… I want that process of connection and creation and just to have focus on that rather than what is so often pressured with artists is just outcome. It’s just like what caused my biggest mental health collapse of my life probably was having a survey exhibition of 20 years work in a big institution, a solo exhibition of my photography and a solo exhibition of my works on paper all within three weeks opening…. that I was pressured into by my gallery and having no support by any of these places except for the photography show run in an indigenous-run gallery – that was the only place where I felt support.
But I was also like verbally attacked there by someone who came into the space…. and just that caused so much, having that pressure and look at what I created… look at the exhibitions they were amazing… and people who went there were like so impressed and whatever. But what was behind that was like my total mental collapse. That just was… I literally was like ‘I am quitting art like this… I never want to create. I don’t know what else I can do with my life or myself but this is it… like I’m gonna quit art or i’ll die. That’s really where I was at. You know at what she was quote, unquote should have been a high point in my career … and it was not … so yeah like that also catalysed this motivation to do the artist residency-based form that I want to create in my shop front studio. Like I have this amazing privilege of like having this big like six metre by five metre studio space with four metre high ceilings on a semi main road in so-called Melbourne… it’s on Boomerang Land
And, you know, I have this amazing privilege of having a space and I want to create a collaborative artist residency in it, prioritising queer and trans black indigenous people, prioritising artists with disabilities. And that was motivated from just being like, institution and commercial spaces. I’m burnt out, it’s like, I don’t like what I like, you know, I literally every night fantasise about breaking into this institution, tearing all my work off the wall, putting it in a pile in the middle and setting it alight because that’s how much… I was just like what is the point of making. If these these people buying it are stroking and petting me and calling me a clever girl… like I do not want them to own this. I just I don’t want to create this like, it’s just yeah. And what is the alternative to that? And it has the sparks of thing like, oh, like, yeah, creating a creating a space. It’s a lot because it in that thing of wanting to make a space that’s more focused on like creation and connection is a whole friggin lot of admin work that is really overwhelming for…. overwhelming to do.
Nila: And that’s one of the things like, it’s one of the things I like about the idea of kind of co-creating some sort of network is like this is exciting… but I’m also like, oh, god, I’m so tired. I don’t want to do like meeting things with people. I want to just get some people and say, shall we just hang out and see what happens?
Because one of the things that I really think is important is representation. I was a curator about 20 years, 15, 20 years ago. And I fell into it because friends made amazing art, but basically, essentially public schoolboy wankers would get shows because they could go “Mwah Mwah Mwah, I’m really good at this” And I started doing it in a way that someone’s telling me years later was like, was essentially advocacy for artists and it’s easier to do that for someone else. So being like, yeah, you don’t want to talk to your institution, but I can, I can say these are the things that this artist wants, these are the ways we can work with them. And being able to sort of parcel out the bits of our work… we shouldn’t have to do… but to someone else who’s also in that relationship who has been misrepresented, who has been patronised… so knows what you do and don’t and will listen.
Texta: Well, yeah, I mean, I wrote that application for it to be a paid kind of formal, you know, like, ‘a credit to the grant body’ kind of project that was an unsuccessful application… and who gave the applications from my brief sifting through the names was people who, four white people, one First Nations person and the four white people’s work was really you know, like that one intersection. I mean that’s not an intersection (laughs) that one section of their identity was the focus the focus of their work and you know, like highlighting in whatever we can just call it inspiration porn is what is the impression that I caught from my quick scout of what was happening.
But it also catalyzed this motivation to do the artist residency base form that I want to create in my shop front studio. Like, I have this amazing privilege of like having this big like six meter by flatmate a studio space with four meter high ceilings on on a semi main road, like posted up in circle Melbourne. It’s actually on Boomerang land.
And, you know, I have this amazing privilege of having a space and I want to create a like collaborative artist residency in it prioritizing for queer, trans black indigenous people of colour, prioritizing artists with disabilities. And that was motivated from just being like, institution and commercial spaces. I’m burnt out, it’s like, I don’t like what I like, you know, I literally every night fantasise about breaking into this institution, tearing all my work off the wall, putting it in a pile in the middle and setting it alight because that’s how much… I was just like what is the point of making. If these these people buying it are stroking and petting me and calling me a clever girl like I want them to I own this. I just I don’t want to create this like, it’s just yeah. And and what is the alternative to that? And it it, it has the sparks of thing like, oh, like, yeah, creating a creating a space. It’s a *lot* because it in that thing of wanting to make a space that’s more focused on like creation and connection is a whole friggin lot of admin work that is really overwhelming for , Overwhelming to do.
Nila: And that’s one of the things like, it’s one of the things I like about the idea of kind of CO creating some sort of network is like this exciting, but I’m also like, Oh, god, I’m so tired. I don’t want to do like meeting things with people. I want to just get some people and say, shall we just hang out and see what happens?
Because one of the things that I think is important is representation. Like, I was a curator about 20 years , 15, 20 years ago. And I fell into it because friends made amazing art, but basically, essentially public schoolboy wankers would get shows because they could go “Mwah Mwah Mwah, I’m really good at this” And I started doing it in a way that someone’s telling me years later was like, was essentially advocacy for artists and it’s easier to do that for someone else. So being being like, yeah, you don’t want to talk to your institution, but I can, I can say these are the things that this artist wants, these are the ways we can work with them. And being able to sort of parcel out the bits of our work we shouldn’t have to, but to someone else who’s also in that relationship. Who has been misrepresented. Who has been patronised. So knows what you do and don’t and will listen.
Texta: Well, yeah, I mean, I, you know, I wrote that application for it to be a paid kind of for more, you know, like, ‘a credit to the grant body’ kind of project that was unsuccessful. And unsuccessful. It was an unsuccessful application and who gave the applications from my brief sifting through the names was people who, for white people, one First Nations person and the full white people’s work was really you know, like that one intersection. I mean, that’s not an intersection (laughs) that one section of their identity was the focus of their work and you know, like highlighting in whatever we can just call it inspiration porn… is what is the impression that I caught from my quick scout of what was happening .
And now that it does not have the funding on it, it can start as simple as, hey, I’m going to be online from this time to this time. Yeah, spread the word for any crip and crazy, queer and trans Black, Indigenous and People of Colour who want to come online and do a studio hangout… I will be here unless I am getting my heat pad, or like getting a snack and have a drop in kind of space to just be like, hey, yeah, this is what, you know this is what I’m doing… what I’m planning, how I’m coping… and let’s just see what happens like… yeah, you know, we don’t have to tell any grant type people how inspired we are, or how inspiring we can be to them. (laughs)
Nila: Am really done with that. I haven’t done it in an art context. But I’ve done it in academia, and I’m beyond bored and angry about it. It’s one of the things I was thinking about was connecting artists, who whether they are self-sustaining on it, but who make money from art and those who don’t, because obviously, under capitalist societies making money from the thing you do is good. But if you don’t and I have almost never been paid for art: I don’t have to write briefs. I don’t have to talk in institutional speak. I’ve done that in academia. I know how it sucked away a lot of what was unique about my work. And because I am much newer to making art than I am to writing theory, I’m much more protective. of things I don’t need to know. I need to know how people navigate it but I don’t need to know things to a level which will compromise what I want to do. And the simple fact that I am essentially hilariously supported by the state, which means that I have to jump through some disgusting human rights abuses. But once I’ve done that, I don’t have to say my work is worth £350 for one year, one month of your time. I can just say, I’ve done this thing, do you like it? And that’s it. And that is also something really simple that I would, I mean, we already do it, but just more structured. If you just want to show some people your work. Because you’re making it on your own, and you haven’t spoken to anyone or left your house in six months, and you just want to go “I worked on this. What do you think?’
Texta: Yeah, no, I think like a long period talking.. like maybe over 12 hours to accommodate all the different time zones. Um, you know, where people can just log in, log off. And it’d be good.
Nila: Yeah, people are like omg lockdown I’m going to die and you’re like, talking about the life that some of us have lived forever. Some of us have lived decades. you’re complaining about six months where you and your husband and your three dogs in your owner occupied house to stay in one… had to stay together for like, six months
Texta: Yeah, I mean, I even have found myself like, it’s just really, it really has highlighted my own internalized ableism that I’ve enacted on myself to just make myself feel shitty that I’m not doing enough that I’m not being as inspiring as other people with you know, like my internalized inspiration porn effects and such. Or just like, you like, Oh, wow. Like, you know, they’re bearing even more pain than I am… and out there doing all these things. And like, God, you know, like, it’s really brought that up, out for me and just been like, oh yeah, maybe they’re just also workaholic. And a people pleaser like me, they’re trying to be out there doing that stuff. And, you know, I think that those intersections of being of being queer and trans, like indigenous people of colour with disabilities at that. That brings up, that can bring up that kind of those kind of dynamics of, I’m all, like, trying to people please to survive, you know, like, that goes great with. Umm, trying to be successful artist, of just, that’s really what being an artist is about. It’s about people pleasing with the people being the people with power.
Nila: Thank you to Texta for a fantastic discussion. We’ve only really begun to touch on what is a huge subject. And I hope this will be the first of many such conversations.
(Music plays: ‘Wapas Jao’)