video excerpt by Ayesha Kamran; La Zona Rosa club in downtown Los Angeles
Last weekend, some friends and I attended Discostan, a monthly event in downtown LA that was founded by filmmaker and DJ Arshia Haq, to view a midnight performance by Faluda Islam, who’s making a splash on the international art scene. Grandson of Pakistan’s late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—who was executed in 1979 by military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq)—Faluda Islam aka Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, 27, is a visual and performance artist based in San Francisco, where he’s “a teaching artist and community arts facilitator.”
A self-tagged queer Muslim, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has exhibited visual art around the US, in Columbia, Lebanon, Pakistan and elsewhere, but his performance art as Faluda Islam has shock value not just because he’s queer, Muslim, and appears in drag, but because of his roots. His performance at Discostan was short but charming. He danced (he’s clearly taken belly dancing lessons) and had his shoes removed by a gora/white man. Overall, the performance was eye-catching, but the addition of a script could have given viewers more to think about beyond viewing a member of the Bhutto family in drag.
Turmeric Project’s documentary about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went viral a few years ago. Last week at a friend’s birthday party, I met writer Geetika Pathania Jain, whose daughter and niece had directed and produced the short film. “They had no idea that the film would be watched by so many thousands,” Geetika told me.
In 2018, a New York Times feature story about Bhutto refers to Turmeric Project’s seven-minute documentary and highlights Bhutto’s family history. In the documentary itself, Bhutto is emotional when referring to his family losses—assassinations of his grandfather, father, aunt, uncle—but he focuses on issues of identity, masculinity, and self-empowerment, closing with: “I want to see more artists of color take over the world.”
Turmeric Project’s documentary about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Post-script: The day after I experienced Faluda Islam’s performance in Los Angeles, my sister Beena Sarwar attended a talk in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s first cousin, Bilawal Bhutto. Here’s my sister’s story in the News on Sunday.