Oft Lost In Translation: ‘Almaarii’ On Instagram Is A Visual Storytelling Of LGBTQIA+ Experiences

Oft Lost In Translation: ‘Almaarii’ On Instagram Is A Visual Storytelling Of LGBTQIA+ Experiences
Illustration: Alisha Huang for Almaarii

The metaphorical ‘closet’ and the idea of ‘coming out’ of it has become intrinsically tied to the LGBTQIA+ experience. Historian George Chauncey of Gay New York notes that it wasn’t till 1960 that the idea of the closet pervaded popular discourse. Previously, it was the notion of ‘taking off the mask’ that was widely used in the community.

The idea behind coming out has been inspired by the debutante balls where young women presented themselves to society. In fact, initially, members of the community only expressed their sexual orientation to others in their community and not society in general. Chauncey remarks, “In the 1920s, it referred to initiation into the gay world, and even when ‘coming out’ was used in a narrower sense, to refer to the process by which someone came to recognise his sexual interest in other men, it referred to something other than a solitary experience.”

There can’t be a singular moment in time for individuals to express their sexual and gendered identities and there will always be someone or the other ‘coming out.’ For many individuals, it will be an ever happening process. The duality of ‘in’ and ‘out’ the closet has come to shape the LGBTQIA+ experience. With ‘in the closet’ implying the individual’s decision to not express their LGBTQIA+ identity from fear of negative repercussions arising from the stigma around the topic. As much as we would like to believe ‘coming out’ to be a pleasant experience full of acceptance as shown in English films, for many, there is a fear of rejection from family and friends, being let go from jobs or even cast away from society. So many choose to stay ‘in the closet.’

Almaarii is a collaborative storytelling project for queer people of South Asian descent to explore the idea of closets and have an open conversation by weaving real stories into illustrations. In their own words, it is an attempt to “collect narratives on closets often withheld, hidden, or lost in translation.” The idea is centred around the physical manifestation of what one’s closet may look like. Whether it would be a dark isolated space for them or a refuge they can go back to. It is rather real-life artworks of the mental maps of their experience.

“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?” they ask on their website. Since the closet binds the queer experience together as they all have experienced it in varying capacities.

The Almaarii project was initiated by Jo along with their partner Teenasai Balamu to give a South Asian touch to the western concept of the closet so that queer folks could have a safe-space that felt more personal. The name was finalised through an Instagram poll much in internet’s democratic fashion. The idea behind the almaarii being something most South Asians are familiar with as well as closest in relation to a closet.

“But a closet can also be a safe space. When you’re made to spend so much time in a space with your own thoughts, you think to yourself: ‘I might as well make this my own. I might as well decorate it in my head and make it a comfortable space to go back to because honestly, that’s the only place I get to be myself’. And that’s where I really thought, if it was a physical space I could go into everytime I wanted to just be, to just escape, or to bring my parents in to show them how much I’ve grown by myself and away from their eyes because I was too scared, what would my closet look like ?” expressed Jo in their instagram post.

You can see their work, here.

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