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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ironic Mirroring: Sufis, Hijras, Artists

  • Author(s): Hussaini, Sara Haq
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

Lucy Lippard, a feminist writer, activist, and curator, writes in her bookMixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America,

Irony, humor, and subversion are the most common guises and disguises of those artists leaping out of the melting pot into the fire. They hold mirrors up to the dominant culture, slyly infiltrating mainstream art with alternative experiences – inverse, reverse, perverse (199).

Lippard calls this process “Turning around…: the simple (and not so simple) reversal of an accepted image” (200).A perfect paradigm of such artists is thehijra community of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh). The termhijra orkhusra is loosely translated in English as “hermaphrodite” or “eunuch” – the third gender. The purpose of this paper is to discuss Lippard’s concept of “turning around” via the illustration of individuals who self-identify as hijras. I intend to take the discussion one step further: rather than simply superimposing an American feminist’s perspective onto the subject of hijra identity, I present the perennial philosophy of Sufism (the esoteric, spiritual dimension of Islam, widely practiced in South Asia and other Muslim majority lands) as an alternative theoretical approach to weaving a gendered analysis of the topic at hand.

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