n Nidan : International Journal for Indian Studies - The privileges of diaspora : the selected work of Indo-Trinidadian artist Shalini Seereeram

Volume 2 Number 2
  • ISSN : 1016-5320


Men and women in traditional wear; groups of coolie labourers posed looking into a camera; sugarcane plantations; bullock carts hauling cane from fields to factory – these are all familiar images of the East Indian experience in the West Indian colonies. The settings are usually rural and the eye looking in is almost always male. Over time as local artists began to depict their own experiences, again, it was mainly that of the male looking in on scenes. Sometimes it was a colonial gaze – one that celebrated simpler times, exoticized it; sometimes it was one that celebrated heritage and festivals, more often than not, Hindu and sometimes again, the plantation experiences that were rarely depicted in its hardship. It was an exercise in the making of a nation and a people in which the female subject found expression only through the male gaze. This paper attempts to explore some of the works of the artist Shalini Seereeram, as a way of introducing the idea that the diaspora is a space of privilege for the creative impulse.

This paper is interested primarily in the work of Shalini Seereeram, the first openly female LGBTQ artist in Trinidad. The conversation around LGBTQ rights is yet in a marginalized space, hardly a feature of popular discourse. The paper looks at the way in which Seereeram’s work challenges this lack of discourse and prompts the viewer to consider the body as a medium of affirmation - of sexual orientation, self and consequently citizenship. The traditional physical limitations of the body are erased as the artist narrates the human self into being. This work represents research in its preliminary stages, part of a larger work on contemporary Indo-Trinidadian artists and it makes reference from time to time, of another young, upcoming Indo-Trinidadian male artist by way of comparing how each artist conceptualizes his and her ethnic identity and place in the nation as one aspect of the movement towards naturalization.

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