'Begum' series
'Begum' series Meera Sethi

The Colourful Chaos Of Queer South Asian Fashion

“Begum offers a vision of post-patriarchal celebration; discarding codes of conformity and hegemonic gender ideologies in favour of play.

More, is more.”

Begum’ the latest project from Toronto-based visual artist Meera Sethi, explores the vibrancy of fashion in South Asian queer communities. In six beautiful, eclectic, and colourful portraits, Sethi dissects the magical world of queer fashion, with a focus on the ‘celebration of the playfulness of fashion and gender performance’. This series comes after Sethi’s unique take on the personal fashion of South Asian aunties in ‘Upping the Aunty’ and is just one in a line of Sethi’s brilliant explorations of fashion. HG spoke to Meera Sethi about her inspirations for the series, her creative process, and her impressions of queer fashion.

'Govind' from Begum by Meera Sethi

HG: What is it about fashion in the queer community that first inspired you to create this series?

Meera Sethi (MS): “Fashion in the queer community is vast, diverse, open and experimental. As is true with the queer community, there is lots of room for play and an exploration of persona. There is also this understanding of identity as strategic and performative which I think comes from the reality of having to dress differently in different spaces, sometimes just to stay alive. I wanted to capture a sense of femme identity among men as gender performance and as a site for the production of joy.”

HG: How would you describe the concept for the ‘Begum’ series?

MS: “Much like previous work of mine, I wanted to elaborate on a particular site of fashion,
this time queer femme fashion on men. I wanted to create portraits that surprise people
and celebrate an exuberance and style that is not always easy or safe to express in our

'Veer' from Begum by Meera Sethi

HG: Did you have a muse while creating these portraits?

MS: “I was inspired by some of my gay male friends who are either gender-nonconforming,
femme-of-centre or have femme alter egos that they sometimes perform. Initially I had
named the pieces after them, but then it felt wrong to impose an imagined image on
them as the works were only loosely inspired by my friends.”

HG: Where did you find the inspiration behind the clothing items worn by the men in this series?

MS: “I’m always looking at the way people dress, so street fashion is a constant source of
inspiration. I also intrinsically think a lot about hybridity, so I experiment with combining
items of clothing and accessories that don’t conventionally go together. And of course, I
like combining colour, so there is that as well!”

'Mustafa' from Begum by Meera Sethi

HG: Do you have a personal favourite piece?

MS: “I really like the piece titled ‘Fernando’. I like the mystery of the scarf around his neck
and the regal attire he wears. From the exhibition I produced of these, ‘Rinzen’ was by
far the crowd favourite. I think people really enjoyed his runway posture and the level of
detail in his clothing.”

'Fernando' from Begum by Meera Sethi
'Rinzen' from Begum by Meera Sethi

HG: What projects are you working on for the future?

MS: “I’m currently working on a new painting series called ‘Transiteration’ that is much more
of an abstract exploration of gradients of colour inspired by fabric shops in India and the
journey from a hot to cold climate. I am also simultaneously working on a fibre-based
project called ‘Outerwhere’ in which I am embellishing the inside linings of found winter
coats with memories and insights from my migration journey from India to Canada.”

'Persaud' from Begum by Meera Sethi

You can follow Meera Sethi’s work on her website and Instagram.

[Note: Queer is a word with a heavy history (which we should all know and read about), and in the current context we’re using it as an umbrella term for people whose sexual identity and gender identification is not heterosexual and cisgender.]

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