About Jai

Photo by Scott Shaw

Photo by Scott Shaw

Jai Arun Ravine is a writer, dancer and dance writer currently based in Philadelphia. As a mixed race, mixed gender and mixed genre artist, their work arises from the simultaneity of text and body and takes the form of video, performance, comics and handmade books. Their second book THE ROMANCE OF SIAM (Timeless, Infinite Light 2016) is a subverted travel guide that consumes and regurgitates Orientalism, the tourist archive and white desire.

Jai’s first full-length book, แล้ว AND THEN ENTWINE: LESSON PLANS, POEMS, KNOTS, re-imagines immigration history and attempts to transform cultural inheritances of silence. Their short film TOM/TRANS/THAI approaches the silence around female-to-male (FTM) transgender identity in the Thai context and has screened internationally. Jai holds an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School and a BA in Creative Writing and Dance from Hollins University. A recipient of fellowships from ComPeung, Djerassi and Kundiman, they also write book reviews and reviews of dance and performance.

As a poet, Jai has featured at Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2013 Literary Night and Louisiana State University’s Delta Mouth Literary Festival 2013, among others. Their books have been taught in courses at CalArts, University of Pittsburgh and Poets House. Creative and critical writing appears most recently in Transgender Studies Quarterly, Asian American Literary Review and Tarpaulin Sky Literary Journal. Jai has presented their work at universities, symposiums and conferences, including UC Santa Cruz Living Writers Series, Sonoma State University’s Queer Studies Lecture Series, University of Warwick (UK) and Pitzer College. Jai’s films have screened in shorts programs at CAAMFest 2013 and Frameline 37, among many others, and taught in courses at SUNY Binghamton, Santa Clara University and University of Arizona.

“In Jai Arun Ravine’s work, language is not so much an echo or a description as it is intrinsically bound up in experience.

The places where different words come together are called intersections. There are syllables housed in coconut hair and rice noodles. A book seems to rise from the ground as sure as the foliage that surrounds it. In แล้ว and then entwine, there is power in this, such that syntax is one of the routes Jai travels in order to restore a connection to Thailand, to mother, and ultimately, to a self whose understanding of gender is shifting.

Jai writes, ‘A seed may be conjugated from a womb, diagrammed through all the tenses, extrapolated into future indicative.’ Language is elemental here–but that doesn’t mean the elements aren’t constantly shifting. That doesn’t mean that language isn’t fraught, especially when it comes to different ways of speaking ethnicity and gender. Jai reminds us that ‘a seed may multiply into many.’ This emphasis on multiplicity plays itself out in a commitment to crossing, such that everything is slipping through its containers.

In Tom/Trans/Thai, we hear Jai say, ‘I’m looking for myself here,’ suggesting that identity is something that exists outside the self, that the fact of one’s body might be located in landscape itself. Jai’s work shifts between different alphabets, between text and image, between what has been invented and what has been received. Ultimately, what has been received must sometimes be invented–and this is the work’s courageous re-definition of what it means to be authentic.”

Brent Armendinger
[Introduction for Pitzer College Artist Talk, 2012]

“As a poet, dancer, performance artist and filmmaker, Jai Arun Ravine uses their body as a narrative of the transnational relationships of gender and language.

Ravine bravely treads through the controversial territories of ethnic and queer identity with sneakers, suspenders and a smile, crossing boundaries dominant culture tells us are impassible and inviting us to do the same. Through their own relentless and compassionate act of self-mapping, Ravine challenges us to locate the disparate parts of ourselves and create identity that does not accept any kind of comfortable either/or stratification.

In Behind the Poetry of แล้ว and then entwine, Ravine recalls a writing exercise led by JKS’ own Bhanu Kapil in the fall of 2006. Ze writes: ‘I remember the trance-like state through which she led us…in my memory she told us to imagine the space between, to imagine a journey through that space, to draw the texture of that journey, to keep its notebook. I drew this: which for me was both a rope and a river.’

A rope and a river—both tools of connection and separation, freedom and containment, calm and chaos; a reminder that the process of identity is anything but singular, anything but simple, and always a struggle that leads us to unexpected places. Anyone trying to place Ravine or their work in a box will find the task inspiringly impossible, and it is my privilege to introduce an artist who is for me, as a queer poet in the throws of discovering her own voice, both a rope and a river.”

Ellie Swensson
[Introduction for Naropa University What Where Series reading, 2013]