This essay explores the intersection between art, performance and political agency in the quest for and building of self-identities in two novels by two Britain-based authors of the South Asian diaspora: Sunetra Gupta and Kamila Shamsie. Gupta’s So Good in Black (2009) and Shamsie’s Broken Verses (2005) provide a fertile ground for a critical comparison of the way in which each author understands and deploys the performative relationship between agency, creativity and identity. Following Marvin Carlson’s distinction between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ perspectives on social performance, the present textual analysis focuses on the fact that Gupta understands individual subjectivities to be overruled and dramatically reshaped by social roles and identifications, whereas Shamsie sees the performative nature of identity as instrumental in the opening up of ‘liminal’ spaces in which identity is negotiated and the process of self-construction can truly take place. This paper aims, therefore, at analysing the discursive strategies through which Gupta’s and Shamsie’s travel writers, actors, poets, dancers and political activists use both onstage and offstage performance to act ‘against’ socio-cultural (de)limitations and impositions and ‘upon’ external and internal realities alike—or fail to do so.
Art; Identity; Performance; Political agency; Gupta, Sunetra; So Good in Black; Shamsie, Kamila; Broken Verses