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Aseel is an ancient breed of chicken. In the Punjab and Sindh regions of India and Pakistan, it has been honed for thousands of years as a fighting bird.
The word aseel, from the Arabic root asli, meaning pure, original, thoroughbred, found its way into Hindi, Urdu and Bahasa lexicons. It is a name not given lightly, indicating deep levels of respect for the authenticity of its subject: asl is the Arabic word for the purest golden honey; asil is also used in reference to Arabian horses with pedigree Middle Eastern bloodlines.
It follows that the aseel bird is extraordinary, both in physique and indomitable spirit. A regal upright posture, long thick legs, densely-muscled body and deep-hued plumage, a compact round skull with a fierce pale eye. It wears the expression of a hawk. It reaches heights of 40 inches, weighs up to 15kg, with a pugnacious, bullying nature and an intelligence belying its classification as a domestic chicken.
Rozer and his brother breed aseels and pigeons. As children in India, they fell under the tutorship of a local respected Aseel guru, learning to breed and train birds for cock-fights. In the UK, Rozer serves as a self-proclaimed centre of expertise for aseel-raising communities both locally and back home. As well as connecting amateur breeders throughout the UK with those in south Asia, he runs a website and publishes regular videos online on all aspects of tending to the breed. Some of these are traditional - desi medicine for healing wounds, breeding techniques learned from careful study in India, spiritual prayers for the good health of show birds. Others are modern, local and experimental - budget supermarket vitamins to boost fowl immune systems, using iPhones torches for candling eggs, hairdrying freshly bathed hens.
Pure Aseel repurposes Rozer's home footage and his stories to explore the connections between bird and man, Indo-Pakistani traditions and contemporary British culture, and what happens to migrant animal practices when the animal itself is a highly sought-after migrant with specific trans-cultural capital. The aseel is a link between continents, cultures and communities. British Asians, through the animal body, maintain a connection to south Asia, while forging new bonds with local white British communities. Chicken and pigeon enthusiasts meet across cultural, generational, ethnic and class divides. An unlikely circle of trade, respect and communication between white north England and the Punjab arises, with a centuries-old traditional south Asian animal body at the centre of it.
The aseel as a status symbol, object of reverence, and body worthy of time, money and great effort; simultaneously a body that serves as a site of amateur experimentation in breeding and medicine, easily manipulated, manhandled and destroyed. Rozer's amateur videos are a window into his practices - the respect and love for the breed and his birds is clear, the pride in partaking in a traditional occupation even more so. Chickens held aloft in pride, for inspection, for proof of perfection and achievement, with each chicken eye examining the camera as closely as the camera examines its body.
Bukit Binatang 2013
Ongoing video work