From Holding Space for Trans and Queer Grief, co-led by Sophia-Layla Afsar. Photo: Aziz Sohail

Sophia-Layla Afsar

Just before I began the Belonging/Disbelonging residency, a wave of transphobia began sweeping Pakistan, instigated by a celebrity designer and a religious political party. This anti-trans brigade (as I like to call it) parroted Western anti-trans talking points whilst simultaneously calling Pakistan’s millennia-old indigenous trans culture a Western cultural invasion.

I initially intended to focus on working within the trans community, but transphobic bullying and harassment pushed my focus inward. I began reflecting on how the cisgender gaze treats trans people as spectacle whilst simultaneously making trans people feel unseen. I explore how one can cultivate belonging when being visible in public spaces risks transphobic violence.

An important element of my work has been to look at play as a mediator of safety and belonging. I have been thinking of how everyday materials may catalyse play in contexts not traditionally associated with play. As part of my studio work I have facilitated Open Play Studios, in which visitors are encouraged to play with found objects as well as write and paint on the gallery walls. This has blurred the line between artist and audience. In this blurring between creator and spectator, I have sought to provide visitors with forms of belonging and disbelonging they may not be accustomed to in an art gallery. The Open Play Studios have provided opportunities to negotiate utilisation of materials and space with other visitors, leading to micromoments of belonging and disbelonging.

I am also thinking of the duration of the Belonging/Disbelonging residency as part of a second childhood, of experiencing my inner self and personhood authentically. Play has become a way to think about the possibilities of authentic childhood, with ideas of exploration and childlike wonder being an important component.