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Inhabiting Discomfort: On Being a British South Asian Woman

Driven by feminist praxis, this practice-led research uses visual arts as a lens to analyse how extensive global migration, a prominent theme in recent contemporary art and curation, impacts experiences of displacement among second and subsequent-generation British South Asian women. This study engages with the concept of (un)belonging as an ongoing process within the experiences of this female diasporic community to actively reimagine and materialise alternative interpretations. Employing a hybrid approach, this research combines embodied and autoethnographic research methods within a performative fine art practice to ask why feeling ‘out of place’ as articulated by Edward Said, persists for this demographic. Despite several shifts since Said’s observations, including recent feminist art theory by scholars such as Photiou and Meskimmon, eds. (2021), Petersen (2017) and Mathur ed. (2011), analysing the evolving impact of migration on identity politics, this condition remains salient for British South Asian female descendants. In contemporary times this phenomenon reflects an intersectional narrative that continues to gain momentum, particularly given the heightened visibility of Black and brown bodies in media and popular culture, which has amplified the vulnerability of Black and brown women.

By leveraging the power of the brown female body in performance and materiality I prioritise the narratives of British-born or raised South Asian women, drawing from my own lived experience. I argue that this establishes a distinctive liminal space that confronts the dominant political dynamics of the Global North and its impact on the formation of subjectivity while influencing new paradigms of home and belonging. The inherently interdisciplinary design of this research is influenced by various fields of knowledge with particular emphasis on the scholarship of Avtar Brah (1996), Heidi Safia Mirza (1992), Sara Ahmed (2000, 2012), Nira Yuval-Davis (1992, 1997, 2011), bell hooks (1981, 2000, 2008) and Audre Lorde (1984, 1997). The theories of these scholars permeate both the background and foreground of my analysis, shaping my understanding of intersectional complexities and the politics of hybridity viewed through the lens of my identity as a British-born South Asian woman.

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More about Sohaila

Sohaila Baluch is an interdisciplinary artist with a research-based practice that draws from feminist strategies to unite performance and fibre arts with female diasporic experience. Her work engages with durational processes that prioritise the notion of gendered labour to challenge dominant aesthetics and hegemonic discourses. Sohaila is a PhD Candidate at the Royal College of Art, London, UK and a recipient of the London Arts and Humanities Scholarship. Her research is focused on disrupting established and traditional narratives that tell racialised bodies they do not belong. Building on postcolonial feminist theories on identity and evolving currents of contemporary diaspora she employs embodied and performative knowledge as a mode of resistance, to reimagine belonging. In 2022, Sohaila was selected with nine other artists to form the inaugural cohort of Art School Plus.

MA Fine Art Print, Royal College of Art, 2003

BA (Hons) Fine Art, Surrey Institute of Art and Design, 2000

LAHP (The London Arts and Humanities Partnership)

CHASMA, Royal College of Art School of Arts & Humanities PhD exhibition mentored and curated by Beaconsfield, February 2024

Being Seen, Being Heard, durational performance Bishopsgate Institute 24 July 2023

Orientalism's Lasting Legacy: On Being A British South Asian Woman, Performance, Beaconsfield Gallery July 2023

EarthwiseBeaconsfield Gallery, durational performance Sprigged: A Million Little Cuts June 2023

Orientalism's Lasting Legacy: On Being A British South Asian Woman, Performance Hopscotch Copeland Galleries June 2023

RCA PhD Research Biennale 2023, Hopscotch Copeland Galleries June 2023

RCA PhD Research Biennale 2023

Art School Plus 2022

Commissioned Artist, The World Reimagined 2022

Unruly Encounters, SoAH PGR Group Show at Southwark Park Galleries March 2022

Jute/Jhooth. chapter in Home: Provoking Conversations on Place and Belonging, Routledge, 2024

Baluch S., The Uncaring Tongue, CARE(Less), eds. Sharon Kivland and Gemma Blackshaw London, UK: MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE, 2021

Baluch S., 'I care by asserting difference...', 'I Care by...', eds. Gemma Blackshaw, Sohaila Baluch, Marita Fraser, Nora Heidorn, London UK, Royal College of Art, 2021

Sprigged: A Million Little Cuts, for itinerant space: a journal of art, design and communication research practices; an experimental online platform for doctoral researchers for doctoral researchers at the RCA | Issue 2 July/August 2024

Being Seen, Being Heard, durational performance Bishopsgate Institute 24 July 2023

Writing-Through-Practice workshop series developed in collaboration with Lika Tarkhan-Mouravi (RCA LAHP funded PhD Candidate), Dr Charlie Lee-Potter (RCA PhD Candidate), held at Royal College of Art, May - June 2022, generously supported and funded by LAHP.

Participant/Reader I Care By...’ (A Recital) | SoAH Research Presents event with artist Jade Montserrat, hosted by Prof. Gemma Blackshaw and the RCA Care research group.

Performative talk, for Research Symposium: Dreams and Guilt. Exhibiting counter-narratives at Beaconsfield Gallery July 2023

Tethered To It, Paper at Home: Provoking Conversations on Place and Belonging, University of Gloucestershire, 2022

Tethered To It, Poster Presenter, Seventeenth International Conference for Arts in Society, San Jorge University, Zaragoza, Spain, July 2022

The Demands of a Durational Practice, Paper at Folkestone Is An Art School: The Matter of Circulation | Creative Folkestone Triennial 2021 | Performance

Call and Response II Research Student Presentations June 2021 | Facilitated by School of Arts and Humanities RCA, Greenwich University and NAFAE network.