Labor of Love: Performance and Politics in the South Asian Diaspora

September 23, 2022 – September 24, 2022
4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Glicker Milstein Theatre, Barnard College

3009 Broadway
New York, NY

Image credit: LaWhore Vagistan, Photo by Nikolay Maslov, Courtesy of UC Riverside ARTS

Image credit: LaWhore Vagistan, Photo by Nikolay Maslov, Courtesy of UC Riverside ARTS

Presented by Arnab Banerji (Associate Professor of Theatre History, Loyola Marymount College), Neilesh Bose (Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Victoria), and Shayoni Mitra (Senior Lecturer, Department of Theatre, Barnard College)

Labor of Love, a weekend symposium, asks the question – what is the work of the immigrant? What physical, intellectual or sexual labor must they perform to signal belonging? How do they bridge the distance between home and location as a function of opportunity? Bringing together artists and scholars, we offer this exploration of contemporary South Asian immigrant identity as embodied practice. In shaping our mediations through the lens of work, we fundamentally frame our understanding of the immigrant as aspirational. Rather than the exceptional successes that perpetuate the idea of a model minority, might we shift the perception and position of the South Asian Immigrant as a series of struggles, and sometimes failures, that point to a contingent rather than idealized identity, one constantly being reworked and in the process of becoming?


Friday, September 23, 4:00 p.m. 

SHAHANA HANIF, 39th District Council NYC

SHIKHANDI, by ECTA, directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay

LESSONS IN DRAG, with LaWhore Vagistan

Saturday September 24, 3:00 p.m. 

ZOHRAN MAMDANI, 36th Assembly District NYS

BENGALI HARLEM, works by Alaudin Ulah, “Dishwasher Dreams, Halal Brothers”

STORIES OF JACKSON HEIGHTS, by Dhaka Drama, directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay

About the Presenters:

Arnab Banerji is Associate Professor of Theatre History at Loyala Marymount college. He received his B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He received his Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Georgia in 2014 where he wrote a dissertation on the Bengali Group theatre in Kolkata. Arnab spent the 2014-2015 academic year as the ASIANetwork Luce Foundation Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Muhlenberg College where he offered introductory and advanced courses on Asian Performance. Arnab’s research and reviews have appeared in Asian Theatre Journal, Theatre Journal, TDR, and South Eastern Review of Asian Studies. His monograph Contemporary Group Theatre in Kolkata, India was published in the Advances in Theatre and Performance Studies series by Routledge in 2020.

Neilesh Bose is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair at University of Victoria. His research and teaching interests include the history of modern South Asia (the Indian subcontinent), the British Empire, decolonization, and the history of migrations. Additionally, he holds interests in theater, performance studies, and popular culture. His books include the monograph Recasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal (Oxford, 2014) as well as edited books such as Beyond Bollywood and Broadway: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora (Indiana, 2009), South Asian Migrations in Global History: Labor, Law, and Wayward Lives (Bloomsbury, 2020), and India after World History: Literature, Comparison, and Approaches to Globalization (Leiden, 2022). He has also taught at the University of North Texas, St. John’s University in New York, Queens College of the City University of New York, as well as India’s Ashoka University.

Shahana Hanif is the Council Member for Brooklyn’s 39th District in the New York City Council. She was born and raised in Kensington Brooklyn and is the daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants. Hanif knows first-hand the problems facing our communities. She is a product of public schools having attended P.S. 230 and Brooklyn College. She’s an activist, community organizer, and public servant building with neighbors on our most local fights every day. Most recently she served as the Director of Organizing and Community Engagement in Council Member Brad Lander’s office where she led grassroots initiatives like Participatory Budgeting, a process that gives NYers a say in how to spend City dollars in their neighborhoods. Sworn in on January 2022, she is the first Muslim woman elected to New York City Council and the first woman Council Member for the 39th District.

Zohran Mamdani was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, moving to New York City with his family at the age of 7. A graduate of the NYC Public School System, he attended the Bronx High School of Science and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Africana Studies from Bowdoin College. A few years later in 2018, he became naturalized as an American citizen. As an Assemblymember, Zohran fights every day for a future where each and every New Yorker lives a dignified life and where the distribution of that dignity is not determined by the market. At a time when almost a quarter of his neighbors across Astoria spend half their income on rent, when they breathe the most polluted air in Queens, and where they are profiled at the highest rates of any neighborhood in the borough, Zohran believes that the future we deserve is one where housing, energy, and justice are for the many, not just the few. Zohran is proud to be the first South Asian man to serve in the NYS Assembly as well as the first Ugandan and only the third Muslim to ever be a member of the body

Shayoni Mitra is a senior lecturer at the Department of Theatre at Barnard College at Columbia University. Her research focusses on political performances, particularly through a transnational lens. She teaches courses on performance theory, gender theory, Asian performance and postcolonial drama. She has published in various peer-reviewed academic journals like the TDR, ATJ, CSAAME, and the EPW. She served as South Asian area editor for Asian Theatre Journal from 2013-2020, and served on the Executive Council of the American Society for Theatre Research from 2018-2021. She is currently co-chair of the Commission of the Status of Women at Columbia University. She received her PhD in Performance Studies from New York University, and Masters and Bachelors in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University.

Suman Mukhopadhyay is a film and theatre director. He has directed seven full-length feature films: Nazarband (Captive, 2020), Asamapta (Incomplete, 2017), Shesher Kobita (The Last Poem, 2014), Kangal Malsat (War Cry of the Beggars, 2013), Mahanagar@Kolkata (2009), Chaturanga (Four Chapters, 2008) and Herbert (2005) which won the National Award for Best Regional Indian Film, Indian National Awards. He has participated in many national and international film festivals. His latest film Nazarband is in the official selection of the Busan International Film Festival 2020. He was conferred with MPA/APSA Script Development Award in 2017. Mukhopadhyay has done theatre productions ranging from European drama to major adaptations of Bengali works. He used to be a part of Bengali theatre Group Chetana. Among his many works some are Raja Lear, Sunyo Sudhu Sunyo Noy, Bisarjan, Teesta Paarer Brittanto and Samay Asamayer Brittanto, adapted from the novels by Debesh Roy and Mephisto, based on Klaus Mann’s German novel. He has also staged Rabindranath Tagore’s Raktakarabi; Falguni-Prelude, Shakespeare/Brecht’s Coriolanus and Śūdraka’s The Little Clay Cart. He directed The Man of the Heart (Life and times of Lalon Fokir) at the University of California, Berkeley and Girish Karnad’s Nagamandala at the Department of Theatre, Kalamazoo College, Michigan. Man of the Heart was also invited to Barbican Centre, London. Mukhopadhyay is a Fulbright Fellow at Columbia University in 2022.

Alaudin Ulah was a trailblazer for the past two decades as one of the first South Asian comedians featured Nationally on HBO, MTV, BET, PBS, and Comedy Central. Limited by negative stereotypes, with little to no representation of his people, Ulah turned from acting to writing. As a member of the Public Theater’s Inaugural Emerging Writers Group, he wrote plays about Harlem and Bangladesh. He workshopped and/or produced those writings at The Public Theater, New York Theater Workshop, Lark Play Development Center, Schomberg Center For Research In Black Culture, LAByrinth Theater Company, New Federal, Cape Cod Theater Fest, and in Chicago (at Silk Road and Victory Gardens). As an actor, he performed his solo show, Dishwasher Dreams, at New York’s Castillo Theater (Fall 2018). In film, he co-starred in American Desi, and did several voices in the award-winning, animated Sita Sings the Blues. On television, he was featured in Uncle Morty’s Dub Shack (IATV). Vivek Bald’s book, Bengali Harlem, was inspired by Alaudin’s plays and his family’s journey to America. He will be co-directing the documentary of the same name that will air next year on PBS ( Alaudin’s ongoing dedication is to creating stories and characters that counter, challenge, and correct, the misperception of South Asians and Muslims.

LaWhore Vagistan is everyone’s favorite overdressed, overeducated, oversaturated desi drag aunty. Her music videos have screened at the Mississauga South Asian Film Festival, Austin OUTsider multi-arts festival, Hyderabad Queer Film Festival, and San Francisco 3rd i film festival. She has performed at the Austin International Drag Festival, Mustard Seed South Asian Film Festival (Philadelphia), The Asia Society (NYC), AS220 (Providence) Queens Museum, Jack Theater (Brooklyn), Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Not Festival (Riverside), Links Hall (Chicago), and A.R.T. Oberon (Cambridge). You can find her on YouTube delivering a TEDx Talk titled “How to be an Aunty” and on Instagram at @lawhorevagistan.