Qasim Riza Shaheen

BritainWeExist at the Saatchi Gallery – Creating a Queer British South Asian Archive

Saatchi Gallery, Basement Education Room


30th August 2019 – 2nd September 2019

10.00 – 18.00

Aesthesia with Saatchi Gallery Education are delighted to present the launch of #BritainWeExist with a series of events, film screenings, a play reading and discussions exploring the Queer British South Asian experience.

Artists, activists, thinkers, poets, historians, film makers, writers… join us to timeline the last 35 years of British South Asian Queer Heritage and come explore what is it to be Queer & British & South Asian. 

This is a research weekend to hear from people who made important contributions and from you to determine key events, to be included in the Timeline, which increased Queer British South Asian visibility. It is also an opportunity to listen, to hear, to learn, collectively, on how to approach the public art exhibition which is being initiated this weekend coming from our communities to our communities.

#BritainWeExist is curated by Ash Kotak of and will coincide with the first anniversary of the bringing down (6th September 2018) of British colonial left over law 377 which criminalised gay sex. All events are free to attend and take place in the basement Education Room. Limited capacity. Some events will be filmed or recorded electronically.  


Portraits: Queer & British & South Asian featuring artists Sabira Haque, Alia Romagnoli & Qasim Riza Shaheen 


NB: Strictly limited capacity of 50 seated and 10 standing for events. Check schedule. Outside of the listed events feel free to come and see the artists’ work.

Friday 30 August 2019 

2.45 – 4.30pm 

Club Kali and Press Launch 

Please RSVP to if you would like to go on the waiting list for this event

Pioneering club promoters DJ Ritu & Rita, are the dynamic women behind Club Kali which is the the world’s longest-running South Asian club night in the world! But Club Kali is much more too, it is a leading LGBTQ community space connecting cultures through music, dance, health education and emotional support for almost 25 years.

Hear about the foundations of Club Kali in 1995, it roots from the original community group Shakti, and listen to some classic tracks from Ritu’s 1980s global playlist.  Interviewed by writer Sunny Singh. 

Saturday 31 August 2019

12.00 – 1.00 pm

How do we archive a new history? How can we avoid false or revisionist narratives?  Discussion between archivist Stefan Dickers of the Bishopsgate Institute & curator Isabel de Vasconcellos (The Fourth Plinth). Chaired by Laks Mann.

 2.00 – 4.00pm 

Activism Towards Queer South Asian Visibility. 

In the company of artists Alia Romagnoli, Qasim Riza Shaheen, Sabira Haque, film makers Ila Mehrotra, Shakila Maan, Zahid Dar, members of LGBTQ Muslim group Imaan, Gay Indian Network and others.

Films screening:

Firdous (Paradise) by Shakila Maan (UK, 1990, Art Film, 9 mins) Screened widely in North America, UK, France and Australia, this innovative early short film, shot on Super 8, explores the powerful themes of ‘deviant’ sexuality in Islam. It is brave and can be seen as a protest film against the Koranic prescription of punishment against two women in love.

#377 No Going Back – Global Day Of Rage (London)  by Ash Kotak (UK, 2013, Documentary, 4 mins) On Sunday 15th December 2013 people from 36 cities worldwide collectively protested against the British colonial law criminalising homosexuality in India.  This film records the London protests.

Imaan: The Beginning by Faizan Fiaz (UK, 2014, Community film, 8 mins) Founded in London in 1999, Imaan is a peer support group for LGBT Muslims in the UK. Director Faizan Fiaz’s film delves into the history of the group, how it evolved, and how it has met the challenges that face this particular community.

Planchette on 25 April by Dipa Mahbuba Yasmin (Bangladesh, 2017, Protest Film, 8mins) Not a traditional film, rather it is a protest, an improvised performance based on a letter to Mahbub Tonoy, who was killed at 25 April 2016 by the extremist to oppose the conventional expression of gender (along with Xulhaz Mannan). Dedicated to Tonoy this improvisational cineplay was performed at Shadhona Cultural Circle by Akramul Momen, who is also a member of a LGBT community and a classical dancer, on the first anniversary of his murder.

In Production: 

Being Hijra by Ila Mehrotra (India, 2019, Feature Documentary in Production, 20 mins).  A clip from a film that profiles individuals from the Hijra (trans) community of India as they fight for their own visibility.

4.30 – 5.30pm 

Workshop Part 1 

#BritainWeExist Visibility Project – a public art exhibition of a series of 52 billboards around the UK showing Queer British South Asians. Join in the conversation.

Sunday 1 September 2019

1.30 – 3.45pm 

Film Screenings interspersed by a discussion on making South Asian Queer content cinema with artist Zahid Dar, photographer Sunil Gupta, Matt Mahmood-Ogston, Ila Mehrotra, Meera Mistry, and Cary Sawhney (Founder, London Indian Film Festival), and others.

The Suitable Boys by Farah Durrani (UK, 1994, BBC East Documentary, 30 mins) with an introduction by Sunil Gupta & Kirit Patel who appear in the film and Cary Sawhney who was the film’s researcher.  

In production:

Love Is by Zahid Dar (India, 2019, Feature Film Drama in development, 4 mins) A film about love and intimacy between Varun and Vijay.  

My God, I’m Queer by Matt Mahmood-Ogston (UK, 2019, Documentary in development, 13 mins) beautifully explores the lives of several Queer Muslims as they go about their daily lives. The film, which is currently in production, is helping to create a positive, uplifting message that will inspire the audience to be themselves, find greater acceptance and ultimately prevent another tragedy from happening again. This extended trailer has been commissioned for #BritainWeExist. The full documentary film will be released in late 2019.

4.15 – 5.30pm

Feedback from Workshop and open discussion about Queer South Asian Visibility today, and why is it important?

With special guests including Niranjan Kamatkar & Subodh Rathod, founders of arts charity Wise ThoughtsLaks Mann London Mayor’s EDI LGBT+ Lead; Saima Razzaq (SEEDS, Birmingham), Ferhan Khan, Khakan Qureshi of Birmingham LGBT Peta Cooper of The Gaysians Faces Project

#BritainWeExist visibility project

Followed by networking drinks at a nearby venue

Monday 2 September 2019

2.15 – 4.30pm  

Please RSVP to

Hijra by Ash Kotak (UK, 2000, theatre play, 1hr30mins) – reading of the groundbreaking play 

Directed by Ian Brown  

Casting/ Production by Suman Bhuchar & Raj Ghatak

With Tara Divina, Souad Faress, Shobu Kapoor, Syreeta Kumar, Deven Modha, Bhaskar Patel, Nicolas Prasad, Sukhdeep Diljohn Singh

Whilst on holiday in India and avoiding his mother’s pleas to marry, British-born South Asian Nils falls in love with Raj who lives in a house of Hijras (eunuchs). A plan is hatched to smuggle Raj as Nils’ wife back to Wembley, and it takes all the resources of Guru Hijra’s supernatural support to avoid disaster thereafter.

HIJRA (Bush Theatre/Theatre Royal Plymouth) 2000; (West Yorkshire Playhouse) 2002; (New Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco) 2006 (Winner of the Bay Area Goldstar Events Award in San Francisco); Theatre du Nord Lille, France (in French) 2007, followed by a tour to Belgium and France. 

“Hijra is currently the talk of London” Herald Scotland 

“…rediscover the joy of having such a good time you want to skip out of the theatre with a silly grin” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

“a good old-fashioned, character-driven comedy” Evening Standard

Further details and contacts: 

See to follow the progress of #BritainWeExist. Curated by Ash Kotak  Saatchi Gallery Weekend funded by the Peter Tatchell Foundation via a private donation.  Curatorial advisor Isabel de Vasconcellos ( Please note this is the launch/research weekend of #BritainWeExist which continues at Royal Society of Arts in September (date to be confirmed)  and then at the Horse Hospital, London on 11-12th October 2019 leading to a public art installation across 52 billboards around the UK.  Press Launch 30/8/19 at 2.45pm in the Saatchi Gallery Education Room.