Qasim Riza Shaheen Khusra: Stains and Stencils

16 February 2007 — 1 April 2007

“The work takes the khusra communities of Lahore, the artist, his mother and the spectators into a space where gender is negotiable. It offers an invitation to explore alternative ways of looking at one another and ourselves. In all its splendour, masquerade in one form or another takes the minds eye into contemplation. What are often revealed are stains and stencils – conspicuous, indelible, at times ornamental, marks of identities that dance through the contradictions of its religious, political and cultural landscape.

From within this very specific Pakistani cultural context emerge the ‘he-shes’ of Lahore. It is thought that the term Khusra historically is derived from the term Khwaja Sera; the hermaphrodite or the castrated male who had the physical strength to guard the womens’ harem of the Moghal courts, yet posed no sexual threat. Away from its grandeur, today khusra sits closely with the term ‘faggot’.

A khusras choice to adorn himself in women’s attire is not necessarily recreational but perhaps more to do with personal reaffirmation in societies where institutional doors are often closed. Beyond being the devotees of shrines and decors of ceremonies, khusras are an embodiment of a lifestyle that demands both attention and solidarity in its choreography, rituals and public behaviour.

The Nation, the playground, and the family become intertwined in dream narratives and desires. Khusra is a pejorative term and for that reason alone the work strives to displace it”.


Qasim Riza Shaheen

This is a Shisha initiated project that also coincides with Look 07

The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication Khusra: Stains and Stencils available from Castlefield Gallery and Cornerhouse Bookshop priced £10. It contains two commissioned essays by Professor Salima Hashmi, Dean of the School of Visual Arts at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan and Dr Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Lecturer in Postcolonial Literature at the University of Leeds and a commentary by Neil Bartlett, OBE, theatre artist, director, translator and writer.

Qasim Riza Shaheen is currently Associate artist at the Greenroom, Manchester. He has performed widely throughout Europe and Asia including National Review of Live Art, Liverpool Biennial and Breathing Space at Arnolfini, Bristol. He has also spoken at numerous conferences and has been the recipient of several Arts Council England live art bursaries. Shaheen is director and founder of Anokha Laadla, a live art theatre company founded with the support of Arts Council Great Britain and now profiled by the British Council for international touring purposes.

Shisha is an international agency for contemporary South Asian visual art and craft based in Manchester. Shisha provides networking and advocacy opportunities, project management and consultancy services, professional development for artists, curators and promoters, audience development and education work and other projects. For more information please visit

Castlefield Gallery is supported by Arts Council England with Lottery funding.