Tania De Rozario is an artist and writer interested in notions of love, loss, desire and home. As a woman and lesbian, she believes that creating common emotional ground through art, facilitates conversations about sex, gender and sexual orientation, that start from a point of commonality instead of difference. Tania has exhibited and curated in Singapore, Amsterdam and San Francisco. In Singapore, she has shown at spaces such as the Esplanade, The Substation, and the Singapore Philatelic Musuem and is co-founder/curator of Etiquette, Singapore’s first annual arts event focused on feminist issues.Tania is a 2011 Hedgebrook alumna and the 2011 winner of the English poetry section of the SPH-NAC Golden Point Award. Her poetry and prose can be found on the Santa Fe Writers Project, Softblow, Moving Words Journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and GASPP: A Gay Anthology of Singapore Poetry & Prose.When she is not writing about herself in third person, peeling paint off her clothes, or leaving passive aggressive one-liners on her Twitter account, Tania freelances as a writer for TimeOut Singapore’s Art & Design section, and as an art educator teaching drawing at the Substation and Contemporary Contextual Studies at LASALLE College of the Arts.
Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)
Tania De Rozario, 30, “Lesbian”, for the purpose of convenience and occasionally “queer”, because it feels less limiting.
What? what do you do for a living?
I work as an artist, writer, curator and art educator. I also read a lot of Jeanette Winterson and pretend that she is my wife. But that last one fails to pay the bills.
When did you come out? Any stories?
I don’t think I was ever in a closet that I could have come out of to begin with. I liked girls from a very young age and never really found that I had a real reason to hide it. I had supportive friends who did not really care either way.
As for my blood-family, I never officially came out, but my mother knew. She was (is?) religious and believe me, when the church crazies come to your house and try to cast the “lesbian demons” out of your body when you are twelve, you can be pretty sure that your family knows. The rest is a long but predictable story.
I officially came out to myself (i.e. called myself a lesbian) when I was sixteen. That was the first time I consciously started understanding that I was not only attracted to female-bodied folk, but that it was going to be a life-long affair. Before that, liking girls was part of who I was and I never hid it but that part of me did not have a name. To associate yourself with a word that means so many different things to so many different people was kind of scary. But it was also very liberating.
How did being out impact your career or relationships with others?
Well, because I deal a lot with love and desire in my work, sexuality and the fact that I love and sleep with women has been an inherent part of my practice from the very beginning. So I guess for me, it is not so much about how coming out has affected my career but more about how being out has been an indispensable part of it.
In terms of my relationships with others, especially in a (largely) conservative country like Singapore, being out has also helped me develop a very effective filter that enables me to negotiate social space in a way that I would not be able to if I was in the closet. When I encounter homophobic attitudes, being comfortable enough to out myself in such a situation, enables me to be in control of it.
When you can tell someone you are gay, you relinquish the ball to their court. They can take you or leave you and you really don’t have to put up with shit. Also, you realise that you have options and are in a position of power: You can choose to use yourself as evidence for debate, you can choose to walk away, you can choose to make an effort, or not make an effort. I feel as though these are choices I would not have if I was in the closet.
I feel being out is important and count myself lucky to have had a pretty easy time being out. There are so many people living in situations where they cannot be out, where being out would compromise their physical safety or well-being, so I feel as though there is a social responsibility for the rest of us to be out; for the rest of us to be visible. You never how or who you are helping by just being comfortable in your own skin. You might be the reason that colleague in your office thinks twice before telling that homophobic joke. You might be the reason your classmate or student has decided that being who they are is not as bad as they have been taught it is.
How have your racial and/or sexual identities affected the formation of Etiquette, the annual multidisciplinary showcase of art, writing and film created by and about women?
Well. First and foremost, I think that one thing all of us at Etiquette value is racial and sexual diversity – we are a multi-racial team and comprising individuals of various sexualities.
Secondly, I suspect that sexual identity might have played a small but crucial part in what some of us were interested in and eventually chose to study back in school, and therefore, a large part of what our respective bodies of knowledge comprise. Collectively, we have backgrounds in art, literature, film, gender studies and women’s studies, so there is a great understanding and dynamic that goes on between us when we plan projects – an appreciation for criticality is reflected in the choices we make. Also, we understand the importance of platforming marginalized voices and of selecting works that question the status quo regarding issues of gender.
On a similar note, what do you think is the role of art in activism?
I believe that advocacy is a lot about communicating particular ideologies and that the role of art in communicating ideologies has been an inherent part of most cultures since forever. Religious practices almost always involve visual symbols that people focus on, music or sound that people chorus to, words that are deemed holy, that are repeated, that are not allowed to be spoken.
Contemporary capitalist and consumer cultures are also perpetuated by an urbanity that utilizes images, words and sounds to manipulate all of us into brainless consumption.
The tools that fuel widely accepted ideologies are also the tools that can be used to dismantle them. In this case, these tools do not belong to the master. They belong to everyone.
Do you have any advice for other Asian, Gay & Proud readers and/or Asian Pacific-Islander artists?
Haha oh dear. I don’t know if I am in any position to give advice to anyone! Right now the only thing I feel compelled to say is that the easiest way to sleep at night is to be someone whom you can respect. This is something I do my best not to compromise on. If I cannot respect myself, I find it hard loving myself. But that is just me.
Check out Tania’s work here:
and Etiquette’s page here: