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Jun 23rd 2017
Anu Radha Verma, a racialized woman with bleached blonde hair and a dark undercut has her back to the camera, while she faces a Zoltar arcade machine. Anu Radha is wearing a purple hoodie, and carrying a brightly coloured tote bag. The Zoltar machine features some sort of spiritual or mystic figure whose hand is floating above a white opaque orb. Anu Radha is focused on Zoltar because Big, the Tom Hanks film from 1988 is her favourite film of all time.

[Anu Radha Verma, a racialized woman with bleached blonde hair and a dark undercut has her back to the camera, while she faces a Zoltar arcade machine. Anu Radha is wearing a purple hoodie, and carrying a brightly coloured tote bag. The Zoltar machine features some sort of spiritual or mystic figure whose hand is floating above a white opaque orb. Anu Radha is focused on Zoltar because Big, the Tom Hanks film from 1988 is her favourite film of all time.]


Finally getting to sit down (over the phone) the night before Pride festival starts, to discuss all things brOWN//out with Anu Radha Verma, the Curator.


Berkha: I’m so glad we’re finally doing this! I remember the first time you told me brOWN//out was coming back and you were curating again. I can’t believe we’re two days away - how are you feeling? What things have come up for you since you learnt that brOWN//out is coming back?


Anu: Um, I’m more than a little bit frazzled. I’m nervous and stressed about all the logistics and making it all come together. But I am excited also for it to be back, for the program and to be part of an all day stage that’s focused on south asian queer and trans folks.


Leading up to this, I guess things that have come up are the importance for creating a kind of energetic, creative, magical (as some artists have described it to me) space for radical and critical creative conversations through performance for all the different kinds of folks that are in our community. Pride is a complicated thing for a lot of people, including me. So it’s nice to have some dedicated space of time, 3 hours, carved out where all that complexity and all of the things that we are can be held/seen/experienced through interactions with people on the stage who maybe have some similarities with us or don’t.


B: What does it mean for brOWN//out to come back? What did it mean to you, what was your reaction when you first saw BLM-TO’s demands including return of the south asian stage?


A: I think it’s a really great opportunity for south asian folks to see and bear witness to how Black folks in queer, trans community have been thinking about and noticing the ways in which representation and access happen or don’t, in the context of Pride. I was pretty grateful...I was also pretty moved. The core of the demands are about anti-Black racism, so let’s not detract from that. But, like in so many other contexts, Black communities have done immense work that benefits non-Black communities. There has been a need for community stages, in general, to be supported at Pride. BLM folks are brilliant and also very gracious to be able to name south asian folks (not assuming that there aren’t south asian folks who aren’t connected to Black communities in lots of different ways already or that there aren’t south asian Black folks). I just think that it was a great opportunity for conscious south asian folks to think about what it means in the context of racism that happens in queer and trans communities, including related to Pride; to think about what are the things that we’re doing or not doing.


B: What has it been like curating this year? Or what were your priorities when you were curating the stage this year?


A: Well it was almost like, all of the daydreams that I had; well not all of them but a bunch of them, could come true. For the first time ever there was more time and more money. It was possible to think about having folks on for longer set times. I actually love village as a stage for community programs. The 1 hour time slot in the past meant that it always had to be shorter sets for folks.


As always, I’ve prioritized only queer and trans south asian folks on brOWN//out. This isn’t a stage where we’ve had cis straight people, who are thought to attract a huge south asian crowd but are not part of community. I’m a fan of prioritizing local folks, recognizing this is an opportunity for them to be connected to new audiences and for audiences to be connected with new performers.


Cabaret-style for me automatically means a mix of genres - It’s been nice to have that kind of multi-disciplinary aspect and I also feel really grateful that there are more trans folks on the stage than there have been in the past.


I’m also thinking about all of the different kinds of diasporas represented. brOWN//out as a whole has been about that, and this year, in my conversations with fellow curators Nino Brown and Amita, there’s been a real desire to have South Asian Express, as a whole, be representative of lots of different “south asian” experiences.


B: Great! So this is the first time we’re seeing a full day stage for south asians, curated by multiple people. What does that look like and what can we look forward to throughout the day and how it comes together?


A: Yeah, it’s actually going to be a really rad day. It starts with Rakattak, then we’ve got some amazing DJs including Coco Supreme. brOWN//out runs from 5-8 featuring a ton of amazing performers. LAL performs at 8pm. From 830-11, Amita (yes, DJ Amita) has programmed DJs and live performers. As you move through the day and the sun goes down, we’ll get into what feels more like a party.


It’ll just be a really great day and I think we’ll be able to meet lots of people’s needs and desires. Of course, it can’t be everything to everyone. But, you know, my hope as a curator is to be able to put together a really great show that people are excited to see.


B: What’s the one thing that you’re looking forward to the most on Saturday?


A: (pause) I guess I’m just excited to feel the energy once things get started because I think the supportive energy (and I know that sounds like a funny thing) or vibes from the audience really make it. I’m usually kind of rushing around, feeling frantic; I don’t always get a chance to just take a breath and feel what’s being created, with, for, and by community. I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to do that. I think people are excited about the stage, about the specific programs and about the performances specifically. I’m looking forward to just kinda being in and with community.


B: Can you talk a little bit to the history of brOWN//out?


A: In 2010, there was a gap in south asian community programming at Pride - transitions, really, like so many times before. I had some connections to Pride because for a brief moment in time, I worked there - not in a role related to arts at all (I was involved in trying to green the festival!), and I was involved in some community conversations about the need for south asian representation. It was through conversations with the former Arts & Culture Manager, TK. I remember being at a meeting with folks from Blackness YES!, Rose (from LAL) and some other community members; we were having a roundtable discussion about the kinds of things that we’d want to see at Pride. Not always specific to artists but about the kinds of spaces we wanted to create. Even though my memory is a bit fuzzy of how things really got started, I basically got to volunteer to program.


The first year was at the now-defunct south stage. It was almost a trial run! What’s actually great and coming full circle is that Nino was the house DJ for the first brOWN//out. The intention was to create a space that wasn’t about mainstream articulations of south asian-ness or queer and trans-ness or even mainstream articulations of south asian queer, trans-ness. I think there is often an expectation that south asian mean music from the hindi film industry (what some folks would call Bollywood). As someone who’s thinking critically about gender and race and caste and class, I think it’s also important to have lots of other types of representation, so that’s always been the intention of brOWN//out. And that’s how it started from trying to fill a gap and space for a particular way of thinking through south asian-ness that is more critical.


B: Why brOWN//out?


The name is about thinking through race and race politics in terms of brownness; it’s thinking about access and ownership in the “OWN.” “out” is not talking about outness, in terms of being out/closets/coming out stories. It’s more just about visibility. It’s more about presence than a particular kind of single narrative of what queer and trans people do, if that makes sense.


There is a description that I’ve used for brOWN//out that is a bit poetic, I used to be a performance poet a long time ago, so I thought a lot about words.

brOWN // out, is a mix tape of adventures, rushing from waters, mountains and plains of the homeland(s) to the diaspora and back. Over and over again.

So talking through diasporas and homelands. Also this kind of thoughtfulness around whether we’re using south asian in a really critical way. “south asian” is a placeholder, I don’t really like that term; I use it in lowercase in quotation marks on purpose. But it’s the placeholder that we have right now for all of the mess of identities and labels (and not necessarily in a negative way).


B: I know you don’t necessarily identify this way at present but you’re an artist in your own being and recently published in the newest Toronto anthology ‘Any Other Way’. Can we anticipate to see you at brOWN//out soon?


A: Hah. You CAN see me - I’ll be the person with an extremely excited expression when artists are on stage. I think it’s really important for curators to be as present as possible, disrupting the power of the curatorial or programming process. You can see me, I’ll be there giving hugs and helping with makeup - but if you mean in an ‘on the stage’ kind of way, [pause] I don’t exactly write for performance right now. I’m very happy for the ways in which the folks who are on the stage will be able to provide meanings for audience members. I can’t see myself doing any particular kind of performance that would be on that stage. And as a curator, I wouldn’t book myself - I’d rather have the spot for another artist.


B: I know this is a very large question. What are you hoping from the audience on Saturday? What are the hopes from our communities, and I know we’ve talked about the vagueness of queer, trans south asian communities, as we think about after the festival?


A: That’s a great question. My hope is that people stay engaged and are supportive; I think what’s really common in community is that it’s really easy to cut people down. As someone who doesn’t necessarily feel a part of community, and who is often isolated (including geographically since I live in the burbs), it’s really hard. I’m not saying everything is about celebration and glossing over the realities that there are really big divides in our community. What I’m hoping from the audience, at least, is to recognize all the labour that goes into each of those artists putting themselves out there on that stage; all the labour that goes into preparation, the emotional labour too, and all of their communities, peoples and histories that are behind them. I want people to be able to see that.


I think going forward, what would be really really great if within south asian communities, we have a different set of conversations around sexuality and gender and race, especially about race. I don’t know that, as a whole, south asian communities in the GTA have been really that poised to have conversations about the ways we’ve been complicit in anti-Black racism or settler colonialism. I just want us to have different conversations, I want them to be nuanced.


If there are queer or trans identified south asian folks in the audience, that are interested or even have a glimmer of a hope of maybe one day wanting to be on a stage like that, I would love for them to believe in the possibility and hold that possibility all the days after the festival ends. Maybe get in touch with me? After Pride comes and go, after June comes and goes, and we’re onto the next thing, I want people to hold that possibility.


B: Anything else you’d like to say?


A: It’s just … amazing performers; I’m happy with the line up. People are really generous, I’ll just say that. A lot of folks have made this happen, by supporting me. I want to be also say that the expectation of being there, in person, is a thing connected to events like Pride - and this doesn’t create space for chronically sick and disabled folks in community who don’t have the spoons on saturday.

Final words are … creative folks are really generous, including folks from ACD. Every member of ACD is connected to brOWN//out in one way or the other this year, which is really lovely.


B: aww, thanks! I don’t like to speak for the entire collective but I feel like it would be safe for me to say that I know each of us is really ecstatic for brOWN//out to come back.


That's it folks! We hope to see you at brOWN//out on Saturday, June 24 from 5:00PM-8:00PM at Village Stage (Church and Wellesley).


We are a collective of four queer south asians, most of whom are youth and some of whom are also trans-identified. We use this account for collective posts and updates. For questions or concerns, you can contact us on this profile, our individual profiles or through the contact/feedback forms.