Labor of Love: Performance and Politics in the South Asian Diaspora
September 23-24, 2022
Glicker Milstein Theatre, LL002 Diana Center
Barnard College, 3009 Broadway
Labor of Love, a weekend symposium that is a collaboration between three institutions, asks the question – what is the work of the immigrant? What physical, intellectual or sexual labor must they perform to signal belonging? How do they bridge the distance between home and location as a function of opportunity? Bringing together artists and scholars, we offer this exploration of contemporary South Asian immigrant identity as embodied practice. In shaping our mediations through the lens of work, we fundamentally frame our understanding of the immigrant as aspirational. Rather than the exceptional successes that perpetuate the idea of a model minority, might we shift the perception and position of the South Asian Immigrant as a series of struggles, and sometimes failures, that point to a contingent rather than idealized identity, one constantly being reworked and in the process of becoming?
Arnab Banerji, Associate Professor of Theatre History, Loyola Marymount University
Neilesh Bose, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Victoria
Shayoni Mitra, Senior Lecturer, department of Theatre, Barnard College, Columbia University
Schedule at a Glance
Friday, September 23
4:00-4:45: Councilperson Shahana Hanif
4:45-5:00: coffee break
5:00-6:15: Shikhandi by ECTA, directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay
6:15-6:30: snack break
6:30-8:30: Lessons in Drag, with LaWhore Vagistan
Saturday September 24
3:00-3:45: Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani
3:45-4:00: coffee break
4:00-6:00: Bengali Harlem and stories by Alaudin Ullah (Dishwasher Dreams, Halal Brothers)
6:00-6:15: snack break
6:15-7:45: Stories of Jackson Heights by Dhaka Drama, directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay
7:45-8:00: symposium closing reflections
- Please REGISTER HERE
- Masking: Masking will be required in all classrooms, the dining hall, library, at any college-sponsored events, gatherings or study spaces.
- Health Attestation:
Affiliates with active BC/CUID: Affiliates with an active BC/CUID must have a green “cleared” screen in CoVerified (for Barnard affiliates) or a green pass in ReopenCU (for Columbia affiliates) on the day of the event.
Non-Affiliates:Complete the Visitor/Vendor Health Screen form, which also includes an attestation that the attendee meets the College’s vaccine requirement.
An English solo
Play: Sudipta Bhowmick
Acting: Sudipta Majumdar
Stage Manager: Surath Sinha
Design and Direction: Suman Mukhopadhyay
Production: ECTA, New Jersey
Gender dysphoria and transgender politics is a subject that has been carefully avoided in our society for a long time. The great Indian epic Mahabharata deals with this issue in a skillful way through the story of Shikhandi. The story not only deals with gender crisis but also draws our attention to the general issue of gender politics, which since the days of the Mahabharata has struggled to elevate women from a status of commodity to that of an individual with a purpose. The play begins on the tenth day of the battle of Kurukshetra when in the darkness of night, Shikhandi visits Bhishma who lies on a bed of arrows awaiting his death. Shikhandi narrates to Bhishma the story of her life - the story of Amba, the story of Shikhandini. Today after all these years, Shikhandi could fulfill Amba's mission and take her revenge on behalf of all women treated like a commodity by men who are looked upon by the society as models of virtue and greatness.
Lessons in Drag, with LaWhore Vagistan
Dr. Vagistan, your favorite South Asian drag auntie, brings the nightclub to the classroom (and vice versa) to explain how critical social theory matters in queer nightlife. Touching on themes that include globalization, feminist theory, and islamophobia, she stages the nightclub as a site of politics and pleasure. Part lecture, part lipsync, part audience participation, the show demonstrates how much drag teaches us, even requires us, to be in relation with the rest of the world.
Bengali Harlem and stories by Alaudin Ullah
This session will feature a brief exploration of the cultural and political history of Bengali migrants in New York by Neilesh Bose, followed by excerpts of two plays by Alaudin Ullah. The first play, a one-man show titled Dishwasher Dreams, chronicles the life story of Alaudin’s father Habib Ullah, who migrated to the Lower East Side in the 1930s, as well as Alaudin’s own life growing up in East Harlem.Written originally in English, the second play is Halal Brothers, a story of two East Pakistani, now Bangladeshi, brothers named Mohamed and Haroun, who arrive in New York from East Pakistan in the 1950s and start a halal butcher shop on 135th and Broadway. An excerpt of the play translated into Bangla (trans. by Arnab Banerji, with inputs from Golam Sarwar Harun) will be read by Golam Sarwar Harun, Gargi Mukherjee, and Ajaz Alam, directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay.
Stories of Jackson Heights
Direction: Suman Mukhopadhyay
Script: Golam Sarwar Harun
Story, concept, translation: Gargi Mukherjee
Music: Birsa Chatterjee
Performed by Dhaka Drama
Stories of Jackson Heights questions the current immigration system in the US and depicts the trials and tribulations of a South Asian family caught in the throes of a harrowing immigration experience. The play is set in Jackson Heights, Queens, well known for its diversity and cosmopolitanism and therefore could very well be your story, my story, any community’s story.
Arnab Banerji is Associate Professor of Theatre History at Loyala Marymount college. He received his B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He received his Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Georgia in 2014 where he wrote a dissertation on the Bengali Group theatre in Kolkata. Arnab spent the 2014-2015 academic year as the ASIANetwork Luce Foundation Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Muhlenberg College where he offered introductory and advanced courses on Asian Performance. Arnab’s research and reviews have appeared in Asian Theatre Journal, Theatre Journal, TDR, and South Eastern Review of Asian Studies. His monograph Contemporary Group Theatre in Kolkata, India was published in the Advances in Theatre and Performance Studies series by Routledge in 2020.
Neilesh Bose is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair at University of Victoria. His research and teaching interests include the history of modern South Asia (the Indian subcontinent), the British Empire, decolonization, and the history of migrations. Additionally, he holds interests in theater, performance studies, and popular culture. His books include the monograph Recasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal (Oxford, 2014) as well as edited books such as Beyond Bollywood and Broadway: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora (Indiana, 2009), South Asian Migrations in Global History: Labor, Law, and Wayward Lives (Bloomsbury, 2020), and India after World History: Literature, Comparison, and Approaches to Globalization (Leiden, 2022). He has also taught at the University of North Texas, St. John’s University in New York, Queens College of the City University of New York, as well as India’s Ashoka University.
Shahana Hanif is the Council Member for Brooklyn’s 39th District in the New York City Council. She was born and raised in Kensington Brooklyn and is the daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants. Hanif knows first-hand the problems facing our communities. She is a product of public schools having attended P.S. 230 and Brooklyn College. She’s an activist, community organizer, and public servant building with neighbors on our most local fights every day. Most recently she served as the Director of Organizing and Community Engagement in Council Member Brad Lander’s office where she led grassroots initiatives like Participatory Budgeting, a process that gives NYers a say in how to spend City dollars in their neighborhoods. Sworn in on January 2022, she is the first Muslim woman elected to New York City Council and the first woman Council Member for the 39th District.
Zohran Mamdani was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, moving to New York City with his family at the age of 7. A graduate of the NYC Public School System, he attended the Bronx High School of Science and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Africana Studies from Bowdoin College. A few years later in 2018, he became naturalized as an American citizen. As an Assemblymember, Zohran fights every day for a future where each and every New Yorker lives a dignified life and where the distribution of that dignity is not determined by the market. At a time when almost a quarter of his neighbors across Astoria spend half their income on rent, when they breathe the most polluted air in Queens, and where they are profiled at the highest rates of any neighborhood in the borough, Zohran believes that the future we deserve is one where housing, energy, and justice are for the many, not just the few. Zohran is proud to be the first South Asian man to serve in the NYS Assembly as well as the first Ugandan and only the third Muslim to ever be a member of the body
Shayoni Mitra is a senior lecturer at the Department of Theatre at Barnard College at Columbia University. Her research focusses on political performances, particularly through a transnational lens. She teaches courses on performance theory, gender theory, Asian performance and postcolonial drama. She has published in various peer-reviewed academic journals like the TDR, ATJ, CSAAME, and the EPW. She served as South Asian area editor for Asian Theatre Journal from 2013-2020, and served on the Executive Council of the American Society for Theatre Research from 2018-2021. She is currently co-chair of the Commission of the Status of Women at Columbia University. She received her PhD in Performance Studies from New York University, and Masters and Bachelors in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University.
Suman Mukhopadhyay is a film and theatre director. He has directed seven full-length feature films: Nazarband (Captive, 2020), Asamapta (Incomplete, 2017), Shesher Kobita (The Last Poem, 2014), Kangal Malsat (War Cry of the Beggars, 2013), Mahanagar@Kolkata (2009), Chaturanga (Four Chapters, 2008) and Herbert (2005) which won the National Award for Best Regional Indian Film, Indian National Awards. He has participated in many national and international film festivals. His latest film Nazarband is in the official selection of the Busan International Film Festival 2020. He was conferred with MPA/APSA Script Development Award in 2017. Mukhopadhyay has done theatre productions ranging from European drama to major adaptations of Bengali works. He used to be a part of Bengali theatre Group Chetana. Among his many works some are Raja Lear, Sunyo Sudhu Sunyo Noy, Bisarjan, Teesta Paarer Brittanto and Samay Asamayer Brittanto, adapted from the novels by Debesh Roy and Mephisto, based on Klaus Mann's German novel. He has also staged Rabindranath Tagore's Raktakarabi; Falguni-Prelude, Shakespeare/Brecht's Coriolanus and Śūdraka's The Little Clay Cart. He directed The Man of the Heart (Life and times of Lalon Fokir) at the University of California, Berkeley and Girish Karnad's Nagamandala at the Department of Theatre, Kalamazoo College, Michigan. Man of the Heart was also invited to Barbican Centre, London. Mukhopadhyay is a Fulbright Fellow at Columbia University in 2022.
Alaudin Ullah was a trailblazer for the past two decades as one of the first South Asian comedians featured Nationally on HBO, MTV, BET, PBS, and Comedy Central. Limited by negative stereotypes, with little to no representation of his people, Ullah turned from acting to writing. As a member of the Public Theater’s Inaugural Emerging writers group, he wrote plays about Harlem and Bangladesh. He is a recent graduate of Columbia University's MFA playwrighting program. This past season his solo play Dishwasher Dreams premiered in Chicago and at Hartford Stage where he won the Connecticut Critics Circle award for best Solo Performance. He co-starred in the film American Desi, and did several voices in the award-winning, animated Sita Sings the Blues. On television, he was featured in Uncle Morty’s Dub Shack (IATV). Vivek Bald’s book, Bengali Harlem, was inspired by Ullah’s plays and his family’s journey to America. He will be co-directing the documentary of the same name that will air next year on PBS. Ullah’s ongoing dedication is to creating stories and characters that counter, challenge, and correct, the misperception of South Asians and Muslims.
LaWhore Vagistan is everyone's favorite overdressed, overeducated, oversaturated desi drag aunty. Her music videos have screened at the Mississauga South Asian Film Festival, Austin OUTsider multi-arts festival, Hyderabad Queer Film Festival, and San Francisco 3rd i film festival. She has performed at the Austin International Drag Festival, Mustard Seed South Asian Film Festival (Philadelphia), The Asia Society (NYC), AS220 (Providence) Queens Museum, Jack Theater (Brooklyn), Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Not Festival (Riverside), Links Hall (Chicago), and A.R.T. Oberon (Cambridge). You can find her on YouTube delivering a TEDx Talk titled "How to be an Aunty" and on Instagram at @lawhorevagistan.