Lady Fingers and Empire Biscuits

Performed 25th - 27th October 2014, at The Arches, as Part of Glasgay! and Culture 2014


In 2014 I received a commission from Culture 2014 to travel to India and create a performance exploring the relationship between Britain and India in terms of colonialism and sexuality. This was part of the cultural festival that was accompanying the Commonwealth Games taking place in Glasgow.

In December 2013 the Supreme Court in India reinstated a law criminalising homosexuality in India. This law had originally been passed during British Rule. At the beginning of this process I was researching into the export of British Victorian moral and sexual values to countries across the world during the time of the British empire, and how many of these countries still enforce the homophobic laws that were part of Britain's legacy. I felt passionate about exposing this during the 'celebration' of the Commonwealth Games Festival, and developed a kind of fetish for colonial guilt.

However, during my trip to India and through further research it became clear to me that the situation was far more complicated than this Britain-centric narrative. India is a vast country with a long and complex history, and in some ways I felt like a colonial impostor myself, arriving there and demanding that people speak to me about the relationship between Britain and India and wanting to take all the blame for everything. For people out there today fighting for equality, this investigation felt largely irrelevant.

The process became difficult and shed a light on an uncomfortable perspective of my role as a white British artist spending a bit of time in India and then creating a performance for an audience in Glasgow after the Commonwealth Games. It became clear to me that I couldn't make a performance 'about' India, and that the othering of different cultures that was taking place was a big part of the problem. The simplistic narrative about evil colonial Britain exporting homophobia across the world to all these other 'poor' countries who haven't managed to develop beyond that because they are so 'backward compared to us' was hugely problematic and yet seemed to be being represented in other areas of the cultural programme.

I became interested in presenting this artistic journey as a way of exploring the white british identity and history that I had felt so acutely reflecting off of me at times whilst I was in India, the idea of British supremacy. It was also important to question this pervasive sense that attitudes in the UK have progressed so far beyond those Victorian notions, because this also felt like a broad and false stroke.

I used the frame of a Victorian lecture, and created a performance that was in two parts: the first, a long text based dinner lecture that might have been given by someone who had visited the colonies during the time of the Empire. I wore Victorian tails, whited up and interweaved stories from my actual experience of traveling to India, historical events, modern day conservative speeches in long repetitive sequences; the second part was a break free from the text and the suit into a naked body and a wild destruction of the long table which was the setting for the performance and had been laid neatly with a white table cloth and regimented rows of lady fingers and empire biscuits. The performance was dealing with binaries and opposites, us/them, formal/carnal, language/body, here/there, near/far, east/west, past/future.

**** The Herald: "This is a piece that howls, a piece that growls - and by the end, you don't know whether to laugh or shudder. Either way, you're unlikely to leave the space that Rosana Cade has commanded feeling indifferent to a visceral solo performance that has vented a range of cogent social issues.

These centre, with blistering honesty, on her own identity - she is a radical gay artist based in Glasgow - but they push insistently into the broader, increasingly prickly terrain of what shapes who we are as individuals and as a nation. Cade had, initially, been interested in the sexual legacy of the Raj. She returned from India possessed of a volatile confusion that she now channels into this performance.

The mood of old regime is set when the Butler (Craig Manson) seats us at a dining table (set with Empire biscuits) intoning "remember your manners and know your place."

Cade herself is in the bald-pated, tail-coated persona of a pukka chap who sputters and rants over the well-worn phrases that - regardless of exact words - mouth of us and them divisions, and a superiority that has history and the law as back up.

Cade's interest in India's recent reintroduction of anti-homosexuality legislation, however, shape-shifted into something else - an unnerving awareness of her alien Britishness which she expresses, on the table, in a whimpering display of fear and puzzlement.

That same table subsequently supports an unbridled nakedness - and a graphic intimacy with the Empire biscuits - when Cade, who has already connected carnally with dogs, becomes a yelping bitch in heat.

It's her way of hounding the conventions of normality and it bites, sharp and hard."