with Inês Costa
‘Hijras are commonly known as transgender people. The images emerged from an interest in wanting to understand how groups of people can face social deprivation and poverty due to their social status.’
Listen to the full interview here:
My name is Seema Khalique. I’m a lens-based artist working in photography and moving image. My most recent work is more documentary and portraiture based. The themes of my practice tend to draw on my Bangladeshi heritage, focusing on identity and social status.
What are you showing inThe London Open 2022?
I am showing Ma (2019), which is a series of photographic portraits of hijras living in Bangladesh. Hijras are commonly known as transgender people. The images emerged from an interest in wanting to understand groups of people can face social deprivation and poverty due to their social status. An estimated 10,000 hijras live in Bangladesh. In 2013, the Bangladeshi government approved hijras’ right to identify as the third gender. These images give voice to their struggle for an equal place in society that is rightfully theirs.
Could you tell us a bit about the process of visiting hijra communities and delving into their daily lives?
I knew gaining access to the community would be difficult due to the sensitivity of the topic. My initial thought was to go through charities. When speaking to a contact of mine, he put me into touch with a fixer in Dhaka who helped me to meet the community. In Sylhet, I made contact through my cousin’s friend who’s job is to distribute electoral voting cards, and therefore he knew where the communities were based. I went to Bangladesh in December 2019, and I met with the two hijra communities who shared their stories and the challenges that they faced since childhood within their biological families and society.
I wanted to ask you about the mother figure, as it is something that’s very present in this body of work. Not only its title, Ma, which means mother, but often images of a mother-like figure feature in the houses that you’ve captured in the project. Could you tell us a bit more about the importance of this figure?
Hijras often leave home at a young age, some as young as six. They are adopted into a community to live with others who identify as the third gender. They’re provided support and acceptance of their situation, guided by their guru, who they address as Ma. Every community has a guru, who essentially will guide and protect the community. They remain the guru until they pass on. In one of the photographs taken with the community in Dhaka, you’re able to see the photographs of the Guru Mas above their bed in their bedroom. They describe their Guru Ma as their ancestors and are revered by their adopted family.
What difficulties does the community face?
The main issue is that hijras are not accepted within society. As a result, they struggle with employment and housing, and general integration. The other issue is that people are exploiting their identity. You will find that people commit crimes and disguise themselves as hijras. As a result, the hijra community often takes the blame. These things are combined to make it very difficult for them to live within the wider community. What they essentially want is to be able to integrate into the wider community and live together as one.
Watch Hijras singing here:
Works in the exhibition:
34 x 49 cm
Mother or Father, 2020
34 x 49 cm
Normal Clothes, 2019
34 x 49 cm
Our Guru Ma (Mother), 2019
34 x 49 cm
Shuktha Hijra, 2019
35 x 50 cm
Tanisha Hijra, 2020
34 x 49 cm
Artist’s book 34 x 49 cm
Seema Khalique (1986, London, UK)
2019 Magnum Intensive Documentary Photography Course, University of the Arts London
2012 PGCE Post Compulsory Education, University of East London
2008 BA Media, Culture and Communications, University of Greenwich
Selected exhibitions: Magnum Intensive Documentary Photography Showcase, London College of Communication (2019); New Media Message, University of Greenwich (2008)
What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?
This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.
Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.
The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.
The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.
The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.
Gallery 1, Downstairs
The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.
Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
Gallery 9, Upstairs
This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free 2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.
Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.
Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
Gallery 8, Upstairs
The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.
Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.
On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.
The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.
Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
See the full list of works here.
An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.
Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.