It was a much-needed platform for story-telling.
“I was just talking to some people backstage about how we all really needed this,” Senti Sojwal reflected, still flushed and beaming after a wildly successful night of performance and storytelling at The Bell House in Gowanus this month.
Presented by Sakhi for South Asian Women in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, “Our Bodies, Our Stories” was the antidote to many of the dystopian attitudes churning out of this political climate: the growing xenophobia against South Asians, the erasure of brown bodies, and the misogynistic gaslighting of survivors of gender-based violence.
“We’ve dealt with a fucked-up political shitstorm,” agreed Sojwal, who serves as Sakhi’s outreach & communications advocate. “It’s times like these where you can really come together with your community and realize there are so many people fighting for important things — so many people raging against the bullshit.”
Under the banner of a “feminist storytelling fundraiser,” Sakhi partnered with masters of the craft harnessing their individual specialties in comedy, prose, poetry, and music to activate a conversation around sexual autonomy and identity.
The performers dished out their nuances without hesitation, leaving the crowd breathless both from laughter and admiration.
Jes Tom set the mood with a rollicking snapshot of their non-binary existence: “Truthfully I’m a little bit like a boy and a little bit like a girl so if any of you are attracted to me, you’re gay.”
Pro-pleasure queers Mariah McCarthy and Corinne Kai opened up about their femme-of-center experiences — the former navigating emotional solitude against a backdrop of group sex, and the latter moving through an exquisite ode to femininity.
Nicole Shanté White’s black feminist poetry transported the room to her vivid mindscape of self-preservation and definition of home (I am an arrival/ been writing one way tickets since I learned how to hold a crayon/ these poems really my city).
Playwright Riti Sachdeva’s spoken word performance was a linear montage of vignettes, inspired by her life’s watershed moments that solidified her sexuality and her politics as a queer brown woman.
Rounding out the first half of the night was Janani Balasubramanian of Darkmatter, with poems that reconsidered everything about grief, death, and mushrooms.
Stitching the showcase together and setting the bar unattainably high for MC’s everywhere was the incomparable Gandhi — infamous marathon free-bleeder and one half of the electronic duo who headlined the event, Madame Gandhi. “My mission has always been to elevate and celebrate the female voice, and it’s no mystery why I decided to partner with Sakhi this evening,” she said during opening remarks.
While Sakhi was founded by and for South Asian women and the needs specific to South Asian communities largely in New York, the organization locates its mission within the context of national issues. This commitment to leveraging intersectional perspectives is paramount to building up a supportive community that understands how gendered exploitation is reinforced across a matrix of oppression.
“We have to make sure that the way we talk about our work doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” added Sojwal. “There is a tendency for social justice work to be siloed. In doing events like this, we’re able to consider where we are within larger movements.
How do we align our movement as a WOC organization of survivors to the larger movement of reproductive justice? How do we think about how our work intersects with BLM? It ends up being more about the overlap of our work rather than the things that separate us.”
“Our Bodies, Our Stories,” curated in large part by Sojwal, was given a name that foregrounds autonomy and selfhood — that which patriarchal violence degrades.