“Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. The theory suggests that—and seeks to examine how—various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, age and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels. This framework can be used to understand how systemic injustice and social inequality occur on a multidimensional basis.
“Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society—such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, and belief-based bigotry—do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.”
To give an example, identifying as a black woman is the combination of two social identities; the identity of being black, and the identity of being a woman. Now, to put this example into an actual case, we can say that in the past, black women were forced into slavery. There were some black woman slaves called “Mammies”, who used to work in their master’s property, and apart from cleaning and doing other housework, they were sometimes expected to be incredibly affectionate and intimate with their owners. In fact, if they ever esisted to do so, they would be harshly punished, such as being beaten or raped. Subsequently, intersectionality operates as a framework to trace injustice and social/gender unequality within the aforementioned situation.
Maria Qamar is an artist whose work can also serve as an example of intersectionality. Qamar is a self-defined ‘Desi artist’ (where Desi means a person of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin who lives abroad) who addresses aspects of her culture, from the fancy bindi bliss, to the big taboos, such as marriage equality, focusing mostly on the female figure and the pressures women of her culture go through. What does it mean to be a Desi woman? Born in Pakistan, Maria Qamar moved to Canada as a child. She later began to depict the realities of growing up in two cultures in pop art and posted the results on her Instagram. Qamar’s art is both personal and public simultaneously, as you get a taste of Desi-American or Desi-Canadian like culture, and generally any Desis who are not living in India.
Many women and girls can relate her work to her personal lives, as the situations she depicts are very real and humorous at the same time. Her Instagram account seems to be a communal place, since it unites people who share similar experiences, such as the understanding that fairer skin is more valued in Asian culture, and the pressure to marry. These are values and situations that one has to live through in order to really understand.
Maria Qamar argues that the whole point of this pop-art Indian thing was so that she could take the most American – the most western thing – she could find, which were American romance comics or novels. Qamar wanted to take the most iconic thing, which is the soap opera, and blend them together.
Some of the topics Qamar discusses in her art are more taboo, especially in Asian culture. Her piece for marriage equality called Uncle Pride, for instance, would absolutely be considered forbidden by traditional types. She chooses to portray such messages, because, as she says, she is not like that and it’s just that people exist differently in the west – apart from the fact that her art is also characterized as rebellious.
“…it’s just like somebody who’s from a place where if you’re caught kissing your husband, you could go to jail. So for somebody looking at the Instagram from there and seeing me do what I do, that would be like, ‘Oh my God, that’s crazy,’ but that’s the norm here.”
See more of Maria Qamar’s work here.