“ID-Clash” Men, women, etcetera

Rise and fall of the clothes:
Rise and fall of the clothes: ID-Clash in Bangladesh | Photo: Md. Reaz

What does it mean to be at home? At home in one’s own four walls, in a family, in a society? How about in one’s own body? And how does it feel to be in the wrong home? These are questions explored by ID-Clash. The performance is visiting Bangladesh on the invitation of the local Goethe-Institut. By Melanie Suchy

Street noise, a seething of horns and engines, flows into the open gallery on the first floor of Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka. But you can only hear the rickshaw bells if you dare enter into the slow stream of millions of people and machines that heaves its way through Dhaka. The useless traffic lights do not stop and regulate this traffic, but only a few police officers with wooden sticks when it is not being blocked again by a parade of demonstrators tooting on trumpets and shouting chants.

This daily clangour, blended in with the background sounds of an open-air literary recitation, wrests any atmosphere of delicacy and concentration from the performance of ID-Clash by the Cologne-based artist duo Angie Hiesl and Roland Kaiser in the academy auditorium. Visitors to the jazz concert and the exhibition opening next door drift in, curious. What are they showing? Earth on the light-coloured tiles, rows of little potted flowers and palm trees, video projections, a small and a large open house made of bamboo slats, but most of all the four people exposing themselves in the natural-cultural ambience. They open themselves, talk of their own lives, and we learn of another kind of noise, about confrontation, conflict, about the “clash” they experienced and still experience because they altered their gender. Whatever that is: “gender.”

One after another, the men’s jackets dangling on hangers over a small field fall down when their threads are cut and women’s clothing, pulled on other cords, grows from the crumbly soil. The Bangla translation of Michelle Niwicho’s text is projected on the wall by a laptop.

What is normal?

People roam back and forth in the gallery between the parts of the performance; pick up a picture here, part of a story there, a song over there. Implicitly, this freedom to move is the plea to “live and let live” as Melissa Noriega likes to word her call with regard to people who do not fit into our conventional male-female formula.

Now, in the open bamboo hut the performer explains in English that she was born in a male body. Although it looked good after studying dance, it was the wrong body. She always felt like a girl, a woman, but once she reached puberty her family forbade it and she forbade it of herself, too, until she became a father – a mother. Today, after surgeries and hormone treatments, she is all woman and happy about it. She is at home inside her own body. A Bangladeshi in the audience wipes a tear from his eye.

Later, at the collection of a hundred sapling labels, he explains the words on them to two American women, from “homosexual,” “bisexual,” “undecided,” to “trans-ident” and “drag queen,” “drag king,” “LGBT,” “queer.” Once, he says, “That’s me.” He concludes, “We have to talk about it out loud, in the families, too.” Perhaps this performance will encourage people to be more honest and respectful.

The two local performers, Katha and Annonya, who are also “biologically” male, are loud enough. They sing and dance, they speak of their desires, their families, about discrimination and sex while they take apart a pyramid of water jugs, fold colourful sari cloths, comb their wigs, put on make-up, pull condoms over hammer shanks. Clapping, they flirt with a few spectators and bless others with sayings, all part of the traditions of the hijras, a fellowship of the “third gender” known to everyone in Bangladesh. Yet they cannot lead dignified, risk-free lives with equal rights. Some of them dare only to visit performance in disguise: without make-up, in men’s clothes.