My recent conversation with Dr. Harjant Gill, professor of anthropology at Towson University in Maryland, was absolutely scintillating. Professor Gill self-identifies as a South Asian queer diasporic subject whose research examines the intersections of gender, masculinity, ethnicity, religion, national identity, and transnational migration in India. He is also an award-winning filmmaker and has made several films that have screened at film festivals, academic conferences and on television networks worldwide including BBC, Doordarshan and PBS.
His focus on visual anthropology explores the aforementioned vectors of identity through his most recent films: Roots of Love (2011), Mardistand (Macholand) (2014), and Sent Away Boys (in post production, 2016). By investigating tropes of masculinity, flexible citizenship, and the compulsion to move abroad in neoliberal India (a move away from a heteronormative culture), Professor Gill’s films effectively capture and conceptualize the affective texture of personal histories.
Professor Gill’s earlier work entitled Milind Soman Made Me Gay (2007) is where queerness in the “diaspora”, a phenomenon Dr. Gill actively works to complicate by working against, queries themes of belonging and citizenship. By exploring the repressive national, religious, and racial rubrics of diaspora, Dr. Gill concludes that for those South Asian queer diasporic subjects living in it, home is neither a fixed nor a stable place. Thus, South Asian gay men not only experience exclusion from their own homeland, but they also experience a sense of exile from their own diasporic communities.
The question then: “where are you from?”, a question that disguises the more intimate question “where do you belong?” dissolves the requisite answer for queer South Asian diasporic subjects into oblivion.
In Milind Soman Made Me Gay, Dr. Gill additionally situates the body as the pivot point in the film. That is, by placing the body at the center of sexual narratives in the film, it simultaneously becomes the site onto which nation, national violence, and heteronormative practices are projected and defined. By positioning the body within discursive ideologies (national, sexual, and cultural), Dr. Gill successfully captures the unfolding of the queer South Asian diasporic experience.
“Film is a form of data.”- Dr. Harjant Gill
Since obtaining his first camera at the age of 19, Dr. Gill has since used film as data to push disciplinary boundaries. By pushing boundaries, Dr. Gill hopes that his work and research speaks to a broader audience and helps them articulate feelings other forms of research might not be able to. By using his films and expertise in visual anthropology as critical pedagogy in the classroom, Dr. Gill is able to impart empathy and a sense of purpose to his own students.
For more information about Dr. Harjant Gill and his films please click here. His films are available to view (open access/for free) on YouTube.