Poulomi Desai


Poulomi Desai

Our cultures are the portals - the gateways between one world and the next

A series of organic portraits made in collaboration with the artist’s elderly mother considering the effects of controlling the uncontrollable. Learn more about Desai's practice and her response to our commission Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other.

Poulomi Desai, Cleaning up the Installations, 2000

Poulomi Desai (b. 1966, Hackney) is a multimedia artist and activist using ideas as she described as an “electromagnetic dissonant black noise for future dreams” For more than three decades, Desai has approached her community-based practice as a collaborative investigation and provocation, using performance, language, photography and sound to create compelling art advocacy projects.

Desai has dedicated many years to photographing diverse queer communities, brought together in the exhibition and book Red Threads: The South Asian Queer Connection in Photographs (1980 – 2003). Featuring works commissioned by Autograph, the project documents the global South Asian Queer community, connecting the streets of Southall, London with locations in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Gujarat, India. Her recent haptic works form part of the Heritage Quay archives, where she has been a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow since 2016. In the 1980s and 90s Desai co-founded several important initiatives – such as the first South Asian LGBTTQ+ campaigning organisation Shakti; the Naz Foundation International (an HIV / AIDS charity in India), and the HAC theatre company. She also researched and curated the We Are the Lions exhibition in 2017 about the Grunwick strike. Since 2010, Desai has led Usurp Art gallery and studios, the first and only artist-led creative space in the London Borough of Harrow.

For this new artist commission, Desai will respond to the idea of Care | Contagion | Community by taking a cue from Arundhati Roy’s essay The Pandemic as Portal, published at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, as an opportunity to reflect on family, community and our new ‘normal’. In what she describes as “a surreal, suburban, dysfunctional cocoon”, Desai will collaborate on a series of portraits with her elderly mother, who has been shielding throughout Covid-19. This work will capture the everyday rituals of disinfecting, communing through barriers and passing bowls of food through windows, while mediating on evolving poetics of inside/outside, and changing ideas of what community means.

We'll update this page as the commission progresses, join our mailing list for updates. In the meantime, read an introduction to the Care | Contagion | Community project by Autograph's Senior Curator Renée Mussai.


Desai’s recent performances and installations include Fort Process, Clandestino, Colour Out Space, Supernormal Festivals and appearances at Café Oto, London. She has been commissioned in the past by Autograph, Serpentine Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, Science Museum, Iniva, and internationally by The Queens Museum (USA) and The Oxford Gallery (India) amongst many others. She is currently working with The Bishopsgate Institute on the preservation of her historical archives.


Visit the Usurp Art website

Watch Desai's performance cOMe what May-hum - it’s our time to dream again on Youtube

Part of Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other

Autograph has commissioned ten artists to create new work responding to the wider context of the Covid-19 crisis. Initiated during the first month of lockdown, Autograph’s curatorial team Mark Sealy, Renée Mussai and Bindi Vora have been in close dialogue with a constituency of creative practitioners in our immediate artistic community. For the first phase, we have invited UK-based artists working with photography, film and lens-based media to create a new small-scale, open-ended visual arts project. The second phase will encompass ten new writing commissions, where each writer – paired with one of the artists – will be tasked to produce a short essay contextualising these newly commissioned works.


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Supported using public funding by Arts Council England

Images, from top: 1) Poulomi Desai, The Unholy Trinity [detail]2014, at Watermans Arts Centre. Serratia marcescens bacteria cultivated with Dr. Simon Park to consume the unholy. 2) Poulomi Desai 3) Poulomi Desai, Cleaning up the Installations, 2000. Salvaged side boards, hand printed photographs, hand printed cotton, cultivated molds, steel toed capped boots, wedding modjis, sharks tooth gauze, neoprene gloves, broken bangles. All images courtesy of and © the artist.