Indian history and mythology is rich with instances of trans*persons holding high positions in royal courts and society, with many mythological stories bestowing them with divine status. However, the British criminalised the entire class of ‘hijras' in the 19th century, by categorising them as a ‘criminal tribe’ and denuding them of their civil rights. The impact of criminalisation is still felt in many local laws, even today they are a highly marginalised community, facing exclusion and discrimination in almost every walk of life. This discrimination has denied them employment opportunities, forcing them into begging and sex work as a source of livelihood, which in turn has affected their perception in society. They are considered a sexual minority, hence are robbed off their identities. This along with general apathy and stigmas/ taboos around the community, has stifled/limited their interactions and conversations with the general public, subjecting them to increased discrimination by the society and, in many cases by their own families.
Human rights are basic rights and freedoms which are guaranteed to a human by virtue of him being a human which can neither be created nor can be abrogated by any government. It includes the right to life, liberty, equality, dignity and freedom of thought and expression.
The transgender community faces stigma and discrimination and therefore has fewer opportunities as compared to others. They are hardly educated as they are not accepted by the society and therefore do not receive proper schooling. Even if they are enrolled in an educational institute, they face harassment and are bullied every day and are asked to leave the school or they drop out on their own. It is because of this that they take up begging and sex work.
One of the major challenge we still face worldwide is the lack of awareness and acceptance in the society. The issue only receives sympathy, which is unessential. The idea was to create a space for direct interaction and participation from both the community and the public.
Aravani Art Project aims to embrace the Transgender Community by creating consciousness, well being through art, awareness & social participation.
(*Aravani (derived from Tamil Nadu, India) is a chosen name to remove the innuendo of the word 'Hijra' , a non stigmatized name like that was the intention.The meaning of the term “Aravani” literally means a person who worships Lord Aravan)
Recognition of Transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue. Aravani Art Project’s objective is to organically create awareness and an open space for the transgender community to voice their rights in the society by using art as its main medium. We encourage a lot of artists to join the movement to initiate conversations during the process. The Wall Project creates curiosity amongst onlookers and initiates participation for people who believe in the cause, who want to know more and for the ones who want to.
Public art is a powerful tool that enhances community participation, togetherness and for catalysing public interventions. The Aravani art project, aims at organically bringing together the trans*community, the general public and local artists, to collaborate and paint public spaces.
The objective, is to use art as a medium to initiate and sustain conversations aimed at sensitising the society towards the challenges and discrimination faced by the community. These will enable us to create an awareness about the community and the social exclusion they are subjected to. At the completion of the wall art, the transgender community and the public will have an opportunity to interact and barter conversations/ stories while they break myths and disembark stereotypes. The hope is to also create space for the trans* community in the field of art. It will also be interesting to showcase photographs (of the other completed projects) coupled with their stories and anecdotes, to engage the audience in another level of introspection.
Using visual language to facilitate dialogue and conversation the Aravani Art Project aims to engage with particular issues of inclusion and challenges of exclusion faced by the transgender community. By using public art and sensitise the gathering with a talk, as a platform for questions, we aim to create spaces that make it possible for the people to be more socially conscious and sensitive to create an atmosphere for co-existence. By highlighting the human side of discrimination, the project aims to bring forth stories of courage, hope and change. The project after completion hopes to de-mystify the stigma that often the minorities face and are subject to.
Project 001 (KR market, Bangalore)
The first project executed with the community- Aravani Project #001 started with a mural art installation in Bangalore in January 2016. The aim of the project was to create space for the transgender community and to familiarise them with Art. The project consisted of painting 2 murals on walls in the bustling K.R market area.
While we kicked started the installation on Saturday as the scaffolding structure was being assembled and the artists involved began sketching and marking the walls, Sunday was an important day as it brought members of the transgender and art community together to paint, create, interact and open up a platform to discuss and exchange stories with the artists and with the on-lookers. The day then unfolded into a wall art installation by the participants who came forward to get themselves painted to be a part of the wall art. The theme of this ongoing project will be the term ‘INCLUDE’- Verb .comprise or contain as part of a whole. This extends to the following themes of inclusion: inclusion in society, inclusion in art, inclusive to their expression and what they feel about inclusiveness in retrospect. The idea is not to make Aravanis the subject, but include the community to be a part of this entirety.
The entire process from when it was conceptualised until the time when we all assembled at a local bar (which is where they usually hang out) after the painting was rather an intense yet a heart wrenching process. As the members of the transgender community trickled in while all of us waited for them to come and join us, the trans* women and other community members were very touched by how seamlessly they got along with the artists and did not feel excluded or mistreated. They enjoyed painting together, discussing the hardships and breaking all stigma attached to them. Thus, it facilitated respectful and meaningful exchange of conversations for both the transgender community and the artists.
Project 002.1 (Masjid, Mumbai)
The second project commenced in Mumbai in collaboration with an NGO called HUMSAFAR TRUST - Advocating the rights and health of LGBT people in India since
1993. It was a privilege getting an opportunity to work with such a reputed organization. It was even more pleasing to know how much they supported the Aravani Project and help in every way possible. The first part of the project happened at Masjid, which was one of the branches of the Humsafar office. The day began with us meeting the entire members of that office, getting to know them and a sensitisation from them. The sensitisation was really essential as it gave us an insight into their world of differences and the similarities in cultural contexts, societal norms and internalisation.
Soon we got down to the streets, taking our discussions further. Soon we were comfortable talking about issues and personal stories as the whole group made sure they were interacting constantly.
The painting began in full speed, as we were a little short of time and due to rain predictions. Quickly we split into our roles as we sped up the process, the artist collaborated and painted with the transgender people, also keeping in mind to give them their space for being able to discuss patterns and colours and involving them into the creative process.
As expected we did have a huge number of people gathering around some confused, some amused, some inquisitive and some supportive. It really brought life to the otherwise mull area. It was important to intervene into their world, since i evokes a sense of responsibility and curiosity.
As the project was coming to an end, the artists and trans* collaborators were very excited to do more, so we invited them to our next location the very next day.
The response was very over-whelming and content. The transgender collaborators expressed their interest in art and felt very motivated to be a part of the project. They also feel like they contributed towards the field of art by being such a vital part of it.
Project 002.2 (Dharavi, Mumbai)
This day can is going to be one of the most memorable days because the project was on the verge of being cancelled and it came to life. The Mumbai rains were not so kind to us as we were about to leave our homes. The downpour seemed impossible. We still managed to reach the location with all the materials hoping that we would be able to do something. As we reached the location the rains miraculously stopped and all the Transgender collaborators were waiting for us. It was a breath of fresh air. They were so energetic to do some work so without any further delay we started cleaning up the wall. We received a lot of help from the local people in Dharavi.
Since there was a lot of delay due to the rains, we were unable to have a formal discussion about the issues and social statuses with the community. This is something we learnt from during this project.
The Dharavi project brought a lot of people together, we were pleasantly surprised to be accompanied by the Dharavi Dogz (a small group of budding street rappers who came and performed for the entire crowd)
The project became almost a big celebration of awareness and togetherness, we had most of the Masjid team collaborators who joined us here and made it more meaningful. The highlight the project were the kids who were present during the project, they seemed to mingle with the entire process so easily and we realized, how important it was to sensitise the child since it's very important to evoke liberal thinking amongst children. You do not tell them to be afraid of a transgender person at a traffic signal or point at them or laugh at them in front of your children. All you need to do is be a little open hearted and talk to them...like you would to your friend.
The participants felt it really gave them an insight into how seamless the inclusion was. The public were extremely grateful to us for painting their wall, (which otherwise people used to urinate on) The beautiful project ended on a high note, leaving everyone heartfelt and happy.
The transgender collaborators were very interested to join us in the Chennai project, and insisted that they would want to travel to Chennai for an exchange and can be a part of this.
The impact of the project for the transgender community is very positive until now, They understand the importance of gathering and to work on something together. It is the first time for almost all of them from the community to paint walls in Public spaces and especially closer to where they belong. It was a conscious decision to intervene into their spaces and for us to go there, instead of finding a wall in famous spots. it was important for me to do so, for their comfortability. The response after the project is usually overwhelming followed by some happy tears shared by all and feeling so together! this has been a priceless journey. I cant wait to do more projects anywhere in the world, just so we all understand that Humanity, Dignity and Equality matter beyond, race, colour, sex and borders!
Aravani Art Project began as an experiment for me, to know and observe the responsiveness it creates. It is easy to make a plan, but to know how it works in a community and in public spaces is something that cannot be measured without doing it.
The experiences after 3 projects in Bangalore and Mumbai collectively was nothing short of a magical synergy of the Transgender Community, artists and public trespassers. We have had our shares of challenges, but the immense amount of support that was received on all the days was remarkable. One cannot expect everything to be a cake walk considering we want to make a difference by Including the Transgender community and the rest of the LGB community to gather and want to be a part of this.
All this would have not been possible without the support of AAROGYA SEVA, who believed in the project and gave us the required support to move forward.
Thank you DR. DAYAPRASAD KULKARNI.
A strong group who stood by me and travelled with me wherever the project took us! Sadhna Prasad who is the Design Head for the walls we paint and the logo was designed by her. Sharanya Ramprakash, for helping me conceptualise and having endless conversations. Roshnee Kumar who is incharge of making sure the production of the project goes well and incharge of pasting the Logos. Abhishek Choudhury who always is the ice breaker and makes the Transgender group very comfortable being amongst a big group of people. Karthik K Shetty the official videographer of Aravani Art Project seamlessly mingles with all of them and makes them look so comfortable in front of the camera. Prathamesh Tambe for making it come to life in MUMBAI.
Deepak Harini , Navin Kushwah, Divya Runwal, Charan GP, Adrita Das, Rutuja, Sheetal Bhange, Mohna Singh, Malvika Tewari and all those magical people who came and helped in various ways. Its wouldn't be fair to say that something this large can happen without all of them being mentioned!