Raju Rage on Sexual Politics, Gender and Self-Care

Raju Rage is one of the most progressive thinkers CONKER has had the pleasure of interviewing, continuously using their art and personal expression as a means of creative survival. Rage is continuously carving out spaces of resistance through their activism and live performance art. In an exclusive interview for CONKER Rage talks gender, sexuality and finding yourself in the midst of this…

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CONKER: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Raju Rage: I’m a visual artist and well, a hustler. I work interdisciplinary which means I use different mediums such as performance, sculpture and writing but also that I draw from various influences, such as activism, art and everyday life. I’ve been raised and grown in queer and trans political DIY/DIT communities for over 2 decades (more recently queer and trans of colour), despite looking much younger than my age so I’ve gotten around and done many things, such as self-organizing and carving out spaces for like-minded folks mainly because it was necessary for survival. What’s that quote: no one’s gonna make shit happen for us so we have to do it ourselves (well something like that basically). So I’ve organised an independent London Transgender film festival in 2008, ran workshops on Body Image and Radical Drag at queer festivals, was part of a cabaret-troupe-pseudo-boyband ‘D’artagnan and the Three Musclequeers, Dj’d at queer clubs in London, Sweden and Helsinki, amongst working in creative education, being a painter and decorator and a chef and baker for employment to pay those bills. Nowadays, I’m mainly practicing as a visual artist and am part of an arts collective ‘Collective Creativity’.

CONKER: What are your favourite books, scholars or artist that have shaped your thinking?

Raju Rage: I read a lot! Both academic and non-academic fictional mostly sci-fi works. My list is quite varied and would comprise of: José Esteban Muñoz, Sara Ahmed, Stuart Hall and Judith Butler to Samuel R Delaney and Octavia Butler to Trin T Min Ha, Audre Lord, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Angela Davis, to Adrian Piper, Hannah Black, Mona Hatoum and Frida Kahlo, to Boychild, Angel haze and Mikki Bianco to Mia Mingus and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, to Rupaul and the drag race drag queens. There are too many to list really! I have to say though, I don’t really have any favourite contemporary visual artists or subscribe to them wholly, I just mainly value specific works by artists and right now it’s actually my peers who are really inspiring me. Also I’m mainly inspired by everyday life experiences and everyday people, the things we are surrounded with and by and have to navigate and negotiate, this is the main source of inspiration for my work.

CONKER: What do you think about the continuous misconception that gender and sexuality are mutually exclusive?

Raju Rage: It’s boring, draining and tiring. I don’t even want to waste time on this page discussing it really. They’re just not, even if they might relate to each other in complex ways, there is a distinction and one shouldn’t be judged or based on the other. Really we should all have agency to self-define in any way that we want to, though not everyone is going to have that opportunity and that is also a neo-liberal western way of thinking in a way that we must also challenge. I think this ideology comes down to aesthetics which is something I’m interested in using and playing with in my creative practice. It’s also primarily because people cannot think outside of the boxes they’ve been brainwashed to fit into. For example, men who are feminine are presumed to be gay, trans women are presumed to be gay feminine men, or feminine queer women aren’t seen as queer, because people cannot imagine femininity outside of the constraints of what they have been told can only exist and that’s down to femininity being a threat to patriarchy which literally breeds heteronormativity. Anything that veers from that is always going to be put into a heteronormative framework because to perceive it outside of that would mean transgression from it. What I’m mainly interested in is not how this manifests, but what has created this logic, and making those links. It’s actually colonial ideas of race that have shaped how we think of gender in western and colonized by western contexts and this is not always apparent but they are inextricably linked.

CONKER: What is the hardest thing about being mislabelled in terms of gender or sexuality?

Raju Rage: Hmmmm….not being seen and I’m not talking visibility because I believe in opacity as much more empowering, but what I mean is it becomes a structural oppression that you face in all aspects of your life. How you access day to day resources, how you get by in the world, from walking down the street to applying for work to navigating health systems. It really impacts everything you have to deal with e.t.c.

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CONKER: Does it happen frequently?

Raju Rage: Personally? Yes. All the time, every day in some way or the other. Though it gets easier if you conform to the binary and some of us have to do that just to function in the world (no judgement only solidarity). When I was presenting more gender ambiguously, I seriously couldn’t function in the world and had to live in a bubble that wasn’t nourishing, nurturing enough or sustainable. Basically I was poor and depressed. In some way we do have to engage with the mainstream, only until we have a complete redistribution of resources and create our own infrastructure, can we live and work independently from that. That is the goal but in the meantime we have to navigate and negotiate as best as we can. That can feel like a compromise but its reality we have to face.

CONKER: How does it make you feel?

Raju Rage: It sucks. But I think it’s important to focus on the structural as well as the personal, the collective rather than the individual, because that’s what these oppressive structures try to do, to isolate and alienate you in this misery. We have to break out from that way of thinking or you get stuck.

CONKER: What would you say those that think gender and sexual politics are not a big deal?

Raju Rage: If it’s not a big deal then you have privilege to be able to think so, which isn’t a bad thing per say but you should think about those who don’t have that possibility and in using your privilege to benefit those with less of it. The way that oppression works is that those who benefit from it are never going to challenge it. This is what needs to shift so that they are, for the benefit of others, and so it’s not just the people who are suffering with it who don’t have the resources to make change that are being left to do all the work. We all need to address it because we all face it and all our struggles are connected.  I do believe in coalition if we want to see a big change in society, but I also do believe political segregation is also important to make progress. I think there needs to be multiple strategies implemented.

CONKER: Do you try to channel personal experiences into your work?

Raju Rage: Yes definitely. My work contains autobiographical elements and is subjective butI also try to connect that to other people and other people’s lives. So my work is about connecting people to each other where they may not see those connections before. People are so often distancing themselves away from each other and not recognizing commonality. Its easy to just see skin colour and to essentialise, to just see what sets us apart and not what brings us together, to compete with each other for resources and status and a lot of that is about survival in an oppressive hetero-patriarchal world, I get that, but I think using the personal and every day in my work that people can connect to is a way of undermining those things and building solidarity

CONKER: How do put a piece of work together in order to really convey your message?

Raju Rage: I mainly talk about gender in my work. Because people are always afraid of gender and each other because of it. There is this fear around identity and how other people’s identity impacts your own (the reason for phobias about other people in general). So for example I will use things like lipstick and feminine drag in my work. Lipstick is an object that everyone can connect to in some way as a familiar everyday object that people have varied relationships with/to. I use it in unexpected unconventional ways, such as writing affirmative or provoking texts with them. Or using them in a way that is aesthetically pleasing using its materiality all over the body as opposed to just on the lips, or in a surprising or challenging way, like in an unexpected enclosed space place such as a toilet or elevator, these transient public spaces that we find ourselves in that end up being gendered and controlling us in some way. I try to interrupt narratives and assumptions people have because then then have to question things and themselves and not constantly project onto others. Im not sure if this actually creates social change but I think it makes people think or re-think what they have been socialized with.

CONKER: What do think about gendered labelling, do you think society should progress into implementing them/they pronouns at school?

Raju Rage: I think they/them is a good strategy of counteracting binary gender which can often be oppressive. Many people are starting to use they/them and not just the gender variant and/or transgender people but also cisgendered people which I think is great. More and more people are recognising the constraints of gender and they/them can be freeing for many people to not be constantly defined by gender. I think that’s a positive. We also have to recognize, going back to my point earlier about colonization, that this isn’t a new thing. That many non-western languages and cultures already contain gender neutrality and have for considerable years. That’s why it’s funny that it’s so often prevented for grammatical reasons which is just an obstruction for transformative change.

CONKER: What is your most favourite project you have worked on so far?

Raju Rage: I worked on a project with Jesse Darling recently ‘Let there be cake/ may the one without hunger lift the first knife’ about gender, colonialism, tenderness and violence. We made six elaborate cakes that related to British Empire for a performance festival but in the end the audience and their response became the unexpected performative element. I liked the project for many reasons. It drew my passions of baking and art together in a way that made complete sense materially to the theme of what we wanted to do, looking at bittersweetness of empire, colonial trade of sugar, British etiquette, politeness and culture as violence, amongst the more apparent violence of colonialism. I also liked it because we removed our bodies from the work whilst still being present, because our bodies weren’t performing but were present in the labour of the work in constructing these magnificent cakes. The audience participation was incredible and how they embodied the performance of cutting, eating and demolishing the cakes. It was accessible to people who wouldn’t usually come to an arts exhibit or performance art event. It took a lot of work but it was worth is and it was great to work with a dream and make it into reality. Working with Jesse was great. A great mind and talent and someone I really connect to on multiple levels, so it was a good sharing of skills and knowledge.

CONKER: How would you define self-care?

Raju Rage: As a political act but beyond that, necessary for survival. I don’t think it needs to be individualistic but can also be in conjunction with collective care, as there is a danger of it just becoming about the neo liberal ideal of consumerism and capitalism. I do stand by Rupaul when he/she says: “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’’ not because it always has to come down to love and other people but often the point is that people are so focused on others needs that we neglect ourselves. I had to learn this the hard way myself. I was always putting others needs first and neglecting myself and compromising who I was.

CONKER: What are your practices of self-care?

Raju Rage: It can range from making art to nourishing myself with tasty food to ranting about oppression, to taking selfies to practicing rituals to going out dancing to a party. It can also involve others, I love cooking for myself and for friends and loved ones. It can be solitary like self-dates or alone time ;). It can be allowing myself the things I never allowed myself before. It can be pushing a boundary that I fear, it can also mean conserving energy and cutting out negative things in my life that drain me but mostly it is an embodied experience for me.

CONKER: Even when times are tough, how do you implement them?

Raju Rage: It doesn’t have to be expensive because often I don’t have the money to buy myself nice things or to go out and do nice things and we are often conditioned by capitalism to think that’s the only way we can be happy which is hard if you grew up poor or not having much but sometimes that just means saving up for something and then buying it. But mainly for me it’s taking pleasure in the everyday. Allowing pleasure to manifest and for example not just working all the time or being stressed. Being in nature really helps me, to just bring me out of that mode that I often get caught up in or learning from how others self-care.

CONKER: If there was one thing about the world that you would change, what would it be?

Raju Rage: An end to patriarchy! Hopefully then there would be a snowball effect and many of our problems would be magically unraveled 😉

By, Raju Rage 

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