Gita Saxena's work excites me, and I see in it the potential for political engagement and education.
In Second Generation, Once Removed (1990), Saxena presents the pain and conflict of being of mixed heritage. As Saxena struggles to define who she is, the audience is lured into the murky quicksand of identity politics. Using poetic and textual voiceovers, aura sculptures and lyrical landscapes, a deep sense of frustration, confusion and discomfort is evoked. You can't help but feel as though you are being wrenched apart, even as you sit comfortably in your chair and watch. In the end, we are reminded that in this country, when someone asks, "What is your nationality?" the question is not really about how our identities have evolved over time, but rather its is a reminder that we are not really Canadians. And while the question about 'nationality' might create confusion and paralysis for some, Saxena facilitates the audience's exploration of its identity by putting her own experience on the line. Forcing us to think about these things as she takes them on herself is a key element of her work. It is impossible to remain detached as one watches Saxena's videos.
Bolo! Bolo! (1991) is a component of a federally funded series entitled Toronto: Living with AIDS Project. The film speaks to the diverse South Asian communities about the problems of AIDS, a task that can only be considered extremely difficult considering sexuality itself is not openly discussed in these communities. Directors Saxena and Ian Rashid were motivated by the need for a culturally sensitive educational tool. The film brings together community members, activists and educators to discuss issues relevant to the South Asian community and the particular difficulties for South Asians who are HIV positive. Unlike much of the available educational information on AIDS, the message here is not a preachy one of abstinence but one that suggests that safety and responsibility can and should go hand in hand with sexual intimacy. A clinical, conservative stance is eschewed for one that openly deals with cultural taboos and the socio-political contexts in which AIDS exists. Throughout the film, sensual images of two men engaged in acts of love and desire are interwoven with information about the causes, treatment and impact of AIDS. Suddenly, 'the silent plague' is given human voices and faces, forcing each of us to confront our stereotypes and biases.
Bolo! Bolo! has not been without contraversy in Canada. One can turn on a television and watch heterosexual men and women simulating hot, steamy sex twenty-four hours a day. In Toronto, two South Asian gay men french kissing and talking about safe sex was deemed to be distasteful and because such scenes were depicted in Bolo! Bolo! the entire Toronto: Living with AIDS series was yanked from Roger's Cable Network in February, 1991. The type of censorship experienced by Saxena and Rashid over this film is a potent reminder to us of the homophobia and racism that runs rampant in this country.
Currently, Saxena has a couple of video projects in progress, one of them entitled New Visions, New Eyes. She describes it as a 'video poem' about travelling in India, and encountering a land never seen or accurately imagined from the unique perspective of a second generation Indo-German-Canadian. During a trip to Vancouver, Saxena invited a number of South Asian women to view this work in progress and to engage in critical discussion over the developing themes of the video. Opening the door to critical feedback in this way, Saxena was able to benefit from the input of audience members. At the same time, she attempted to de-mystify the process of creating video 'art.'
New Visions, New Eyes seems a natural step from Second Generation, Once Removed. It uses an elaborate weaving of vignettes and impressions, overlaying images, poetry, and sounds. It even plays on our olfactory senses (no, it is not a scratch and sniff video!) in order to create different moods. This video journey through India will amaze you. It runs you through a gamut of emotions—smiling with remembrance, feeling uneasy with the newness of it all, shifting uncomfortably in your seat, cringing with horror, or wishing for a quiet corner to cry.
One of the hallmarks of Gita Saxena's work is the deeply personal approach that she has taken to questions and issues that concern us all. Not surprisingly, then, her work is always challenging, often controversial. Through it all, one is struck by the beauty, grace, and fluidity that characterizes her videography.
My appreciation of Gita Saxena's work lies in her ability to impart her personal experience in a way that never tries to escape from the reality of classism, racism, sexism, homophobia and the pain of fragmented identity which reprecusses through our lives as we struggle to reclaim our voices.