A Khopcha, a Gufa, a Kaavu, A Closet- suffocating for some and liberating for others but one thing is sure, every person defines their closet differently.
In 2018, Pooja Krishankumar, a queer person and student of sociology along with her partner, Teenasai, and Vijaya Aswani aka Spreefirit started a beautiful project ‘Almārī.’
Almārī is a collaborative storytelling project that collects all kinds of narratives surrounding what closets/almaaris mean for queer people in South Asia.
As Pooja describes,
“The project began with a simple question we had: What would a physical manifestation of someone’s closet be?”
A ‘closet’ is a place where queer people take shelter or hide from the shame and atrocities of the world. Queer people go through a lot of ridicule, pain, violence, and a lack of acceptance. It’s often not safe. And a closet is space that can feel safe. Although, this can easily become stifling and suffocating as no one deserves to live that way forever.
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Wire Art and Vinyl . . 'My closet is a little room, big enough to fit a couple people but for now it's just me and my dog, maybe one day I'll love someone enough to have them here with me, until then I like keeping my doors closed. the walls are wooden, one of the walls is painted white, there are little Polaroids of me and the people I love, clipped to fairy lights with wooden laundry clips. there's a black shelf with succulents and wire art pieces that I bought from an art fair because they reminded me of.. me. there's another wall with a space to step into, it has a big window and translucent white curtains, thin enough for the sunlight to come through. There's a mattress and lots of throw pillows and the wall next to it has a bookshelf with all my favourite books and vinyl records. The other wall has a little table with a rusty old gramophone, with vinyl covers of my favourite artists hung up on the wall above it and a little cabinet that has lots of wine and a tiny oven to bake things in. the fourth wall has a beige coloured bed that my dog sleeps in and a basket with all his toys in it. a bowl where he eats from and another where he drinks water from.' . . . Kanishka, 15 CisWoman, Gray-Asexual Student Mumbai . Illustrated by Anjali Kamat (@anjisdoodles )
There’s a general understanding that South Asia has one of the largest closeted queer populations in the world although there is no proper statistic to prove that. We do know though, that our cultures propagate heterosexuality and heteronormativity very strongly and there’s hardly been space for queer people to be out in the open- especially in mainstream media.
This means that closets do exist- just like they do anywhere else. The language we use to describe this closet though, can be different depending on our own cultural experiences and language differences.
Pooja and her team went out to curate stories in their zest to understand how different people might have different closets.
Would it be depressing and devoid of light? Or would it be a space of protection someone has built for themselves?
“Would it be depressing and devoid of light? Or would it be a space of protection someone has built for themselves? Why are some people happier staying in the closet while some are not? What would be some of the things one would have in their closet if it were, in fact, a real thing they could access?
Would it have a music system? A keyboard? Would it be painted all colours of the rainbow, have queer magazines and posters? Would it be silent, or are friends invited? Would it be technologically sound or one that’s cut off?
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My Closet Has Toy Dragons . ‘My closet was never a dark place. It’s lit by all the heart emojis my friends sent me when I came out. . My closet has posters on the sides, from every protest I’ve gone to. It has a carpet with four large stripes. black, grey, white and purple stripes. . I keep a stack of books here too! Heavyweights like Michel Foucault, Ruth Vanitha, Judith Butler. But there are also stories about women who love women by Sarah Waters. Frayed printouts of queer fan fiction. And of course, a sprinkling of Devdutt Pattanaik’s mythology. . I also keep figurines and paintings of dragons. People say their don’t exist. They say that about asexual people too. Maybe that’s why I love dragons so much . My closet has clothes too. As many purple things I could buy! An excessive amount of beanies too. I was thrilled when I realised how much Todd Chavez and Jughead Jones (canon asexual characters) loves beanies as much as I do! . I built my closet in plain sight. You watched me do it. But my closet has no doors. There’s a beanbag at the entrance. And I always keep a spare teacup for visitors.’ . Shambhavi, 25 CisWoman, Asexual/Homoromantic Writer . Illustrated by Seema (@lonelycanopy)
While the idea of a closet, is indeed, as old as queer people go, Almaari is a direct translation of the word. Most other languages in India have a similar word for ‘closet’, and even though the experiences of queer South Asian people with all their caste, class, gendered and racial intersections may often fit other terms, Almaari seems to be the most accurate descriptions of how we feel inside a closet.”
This project puts together real stories and real illustrations together to collect narratives on closets often withheld, hidden, or lost in translation. The team wishes to not only learn more about the queer community and each individual’s closet, but also bring each individual story to light- whether sad or happy- all are valid, every experience is valid.