Hopeful for the long, global healing from the COVID-19 pandemic, so many are beginning to acknowledge with self-awareness how their safety has been the product of so many underappreciated forms of global labor. As we reflect on the networks of oppression that do not enable universal safety and survival, we become increasingly aware of our positionality within these systems.
Though we strive consistently for excellence in diversity, Brooklyn Raga Massive cannot ignore that its collective and artists thrive by the labor of disprivileged artisan communities in South Asia who created, preserved, and innovated on the raga-based arts. Within both South Asia and the diaspora, increasingly nationalist politics of exclusion - largely along the lines of gender, faith, and caste - put these communities at risk of erasure while their appropriated art forms become the means of cultural expression for the privileged.
Given the urgency for real and lasting change, we at Brooklyn Raga Massive believe that we must leverage our art and voices to begin dismantling the privileges we benefit from. We are proud therefore to announce our Social Justice Series. This series of concerts, events, and activities strives to platform the voices of artisan communities and share valuable resources on how to be better allies through decolonized art and critical activism.
We are proud to announce the first season of this series will be dedicated to the contributions and influences of tawaifs: often reductively defined as courtesans, tawaifs were female-identifying entertainers who served as community authorities on art and adaab (etiquette). They were also teachers, innovators, and revolutionaries who lent their talents to India’s first gramophone recordings and movies as well as countless musical, dance, and literary compositions. Due to British-styled social reformism and the erasure of non-dominant-caste women’s artistic contributions in both post-colonial India and Pakistan, however, the profession of tawaif became stigmatized with matrilineal tawaif communities nearing extinction today.
Nonetheless, tawaifs and their influences have remained an enduring presence in the South Asian arts, as much through dramatized Bollywood renditions as the continued performances of thumri, ghazal, and dadra (among many other composition styles). We are excited to better understand not only the history of tawaifs but also where we as artists can contribute materially and discursively to unwork the privileges that led to their erasure.