In Search of Baba Singh

In Search of Baba Singh, presented in Room Gallery at the University of California, Irvine, is the first iteration of an ongoing research project that takes as its jumping off point the arrest record of Baba Singh, a laborer from Punjab, India in California at the turn of the twentieth century. Baba Singh was arrested in 1914 for ‘infamous crimes against nature’; a statute that at the time would criminalize a range of sexual behaviors including homosexuality.


In addition to the arrest record itself, works in the exhibition range from a sound work by Bani Abidi. Memorial to Lost Word (2016), is a poignant archive of forgotten Punjabi folk songs and historical letters reflecting on displacement, loss and longing as experienced by Indian colonial subjects in the shadow of World War I. Suresh Kumar Koushal v. NAZ Foundation (India) Trust (Civil Appeal No. 10972 of 2013), by Sandip Kuriakose is an exact reprint of the now infamous 2013 Supreme Court ruling which recriminalized homosexuality in India. The work examines language around criminality by redacting the entire judgment except words that connote a negation. Rex V Singh (2008) a collaborative experimental video created by Ali Kazimi, John Greyson and Richard Fung stages scenes from the 1915 trial of two Sikh mill-workers Dalip Singh and Naina Singh, arrested by police in Vancouver and accused of sodomy. 


Set against the backdrop of these works, the viewer encounters a range of archival and textual ephemera, including the arrest record of not just Baba Singh, but also a courtroom transcript, a list of migrants from a ship, newspaper and immigration records and published works by Nayan Shah and Shyam Selvadurai. A performance-lecture by the curator in collaboration with the artist Gazelle Samizay intersects these histories with personal journeys as a means to both resist and reclaim these narratives.


Taken together and individually, these works and objects become a means to reveal complex stories of wasted and forgotten lives. Through this exhibition, Baba Singh is thus a protagonist whose journey and destiny is unknown and potentially fictional, but through whom various possibilities of writing and recovering a lost queer history can be imagined.


This exhibition would not have been possible with the research and lending support of the ONE Archives.


Curated by Aziz Sohail
M.F.A. Candidate in The Department of Art with a Concentration in Critical and Curatorial Studies


On view in Room Gallery (Bldg 727 on campus map)


Events & Programming:

February 13th
Screening of Rex Vs Singh
6:30 - 7:00pm

Lecture performance and conversation with Gazelle Samizay
7:00 - 8:00pm

Room Gallery (Bldg 727 on campus map)


Aziz Sohail
Exhibition Dates: 
Jan 19, 2019 to Feb 16, 2019
Saturday, January 19, 2019 - 2:00pm to 5:00pm