DESI EROS: An arts-based phenomenological research project

DESI EROS is an arts-based phenomenological research project facilitated by Dr. Nisha Gupta, who explored the research question: “What is the lived experience of reclaiming erotic power among Desi women, in light of our cultural contexts and ancestral histories?” Phenomenology is a research method that produces knowledge about human experience by exploring how people live through certain phenomena, experientially and directly. Phenomenology collects people’s detailed descriptions of their personal lived experiences, in order to discover deep insights about the phenomenon under inquiry.

The procedures for this project were as follows: Gupta collected 6 diasporic Desi women’s descriptions of reclaiming erotic power–Shafina Ahmed, Roo Zine, Seema Reza, Mary Ann Mohanraj, and Samra Habib, and her own story. All participants are writers and artists whose work is devoted to exploring issues of sexual and gender empowerment among South Asian women. The writers’ identities are diverse in religiosity, ethnicity, nationality, and sexuality, with ancestry from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

Gupta engaged in a thematic data interpretation process of each woman’s narrative to unearth core thematic meanings of reclaiming erotic power within their story. Then, she expressed these thematic meanings in the form of surrealist folk art, with South Asian cultural symbols embedded in each painting. Gupta experienced a literal decolonization of her South Asian American psyche while creating this artwork: the symbolic images in each painting emerged by a transpersonal process of being intuitively led by Divine Imagination, which awakened deeper understandings of indigenous, pre-colonial South Asian cultures that she did not know before. After finishing each painting, Gupta conducted research about the cultural symbols of each painting, and wrote essays that explicate these cultural symbols and the meaning of “erotic power” in our indigenous Desi cultures. The final artwork, poetry, and essays aim to liberate and decolonize the meanings of reclaiming erotic power for Desi women–both personally, as described by each writer’s subjective experience, and collectively, as expressed by our indigenous cultural symbols as Desi people.

This study’s research findings demonstrate that in the process of reclaiming erotic power, Desi women also reclaim our voice by breaking cultures of silence around sexual abuse. We reclaim autonomy and freedom about what we want to do with our own bodies (and lives). We reclaim our religion, faith, and spirituality as it intersects with our sexuality. We reclaim our capacity to shamelessly embrace desire, pleasure and joy (as our ancestors did). We reclaim the power of deep feminine wisdom and knowledge (so obscured by patriarchy). And we reclaim our right to experience unconditional love, acceptance, and at-homeness in the world, across our intersectional (queer and religious) identities.

While this project does not claim to represent the experiences of all Desi women, it does aspire to be a work of reclaiming, decolonizing, and solidarity on behalf of all South Asian women–across our religions, ethnicities, nationalities, and sexualities.

For questions, comments, or collaborations reach out to Dr. Nisha Gupta at ngupta@westga.edu.

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