Bhutto is queer, is Pakistan ready for this coming out?

ANI | Updated: Feb 21, 2018 03:51 IST

New York [USA], Feb 21 (ANI): Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is a queer. Most would confuse him with the other Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was a former Pakistan President and the Prime Minister in the early 1970s.

To clear out the confusion, Bhutto is a visual and a performance artist who lives in San Francisco in the United States. But, what has made him more popular is that he is the grandson of former Pakistan leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Recently, a short film was made on him, as part of "The Turmeric Project," a series highlighting LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) South Asians who are living in the US.

The film opens with the voice of a man mockingly narrating a fictional encounter, in which he is asked to leave a plane for "speaking Arabian."

The words "Queer Muslim Proud" appear on the screen, followed by an introduction to the subject, in neon letters. Bhutto appears in a silky dress, dancing to the 1980s hit, "Disco Deewane," sung by the Pakistani pop singer Nazia Hassan. He shimmies and sways, a pink scarf pinned to his hair, light-blue eye shadow reaching up to his eyebrows, The New York Times reported.

Much of his work, explores the intersection of Islam, sexuality and masculinity.

But the reason viewers across the world clamoured about the video, and why it continues to stir controversy, was because Bhutto shares his name with his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. After leading the country in the 1970s, the elder Bhutto was deposed in a military coup by the then Pakistan chief of army staff General Zia-ul-Haq and was subsequently executed in 1979.

Three of his children went into politics, of which her daughter Benazir Bhutto became the Pakistan Prime Minister in the 1990s before she was assassinated in 2007.

The younger Bhutto was just six years old when his father, Murtaza, was killed in a chaotic gunfight with the police outside his home in Karachi. The exact circumstances of his death remain mysterious.

Although Bhutto added that his family did not pressurise him to enter politics, he is considered by many Pakistanis to be the successor to the family's turbulent dynasty.

"Bhutto Jr steps into the art world raises hopes," a headline in Dawn, one of Pakistan's leading English-language newspapers, said. In a Facebook comment, one user pleaded to Bhutto, "You are doing a nice job but please take the lead party of your grandpapa, we all are missing you."

In Pakistan, same-sex sexual acts are prohibited by law and there are no anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ citizens. Although the Senate recently approved amendments to a bill that allows transgenders to choose their gender without needing to appear before a medical board, they are still at a huge risk.

News reports of expulsion, legal threats and attacks against gay Pakistanis, or against those perceived to be gay, are not uncommon.

For example, in one highly publicised case, a Pakistani transgender activist died from gunshot wounds after delays in her medical care.

Many conservative people who watched the video allegedly used homophobic and derogatory comments on social media to condemn him and his art. "There was so much negativity when it came out, and the focus was on the drag part of it," Bhutto said.

Bhutto came to the US in 2014 to pursue his masters in fine arts at the San Francisco Art Institute. He began using visual and performance works to explore Islamic identity after coming to the country. Initially, he was shocked by a notorious series of anti-Muslim advertisements on the city buses.

"It made me want to hide who I was. The explicit Islamophobia energised me in a way I wasn't in Pakistan," he remarked.

Along with the Iranian artist Minoosh Zomorodinia, Bhutto began exploring acts that emphasized and embraced his status as a Muslim in the US. The two artists together developed "prayformances," in which they completed the Muslim ritual of praying in public spaces.

Bhutto and his artist friend Yas Ahmed are hosting an art show at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco, titled- "The Third Muslim: Queer and Trans Muslim Narratives of Resistance and Resilience." The show has been well received in the art world, including in Pakistan. It also features artworks by 15 queer and transgender artists from around the world, including Syria, Iran, and Pakistan.

"The exhibition tackles the representation of Islam and Muslims all over the world but through a queer lens. At least in America, these days, identifying as Muslim is more tricky than identifying as queer, funnily enough," Bhutto concluded. (ANI)