There's no protest, no placards, no shouting of slogans – rather a riot of colours. A group of transgenders has come out on the streets to vent their emotions, demand their rights and show their creative talents to the world through murals.
It's the outcome of the Chennai-based Aravani Art Project that documentary maker Poornima Sukumar started off as an experiment around two years ago, little realising it would soon turn into a major platform for the transgender community to create a space for themselves in society.
"While working on the documentary, I came across many from the transgender community and felt I should do something or give them a platform to speak up for themselves. I have also been a mural artist; so I... plunged into something I was comfortable with," Sukumar said.
How did the name come about?
Mythology has it that before the start of Mahabharatha war, on the advice of Krishna, the Pandavas decided to make a human sacrifice to ensure their victory.
Aravan, one of the sons of Arjuna – born to princess Chithrangadha – volunteered to be sacrificed. But he first wanted to get married. Krishna takes the form of a woman – Mohini – and marries him. And the next day Aravan offers himself for sacrifice. And, Aravan is one of the gods that transgenders worship.
The project currently functions with four members based in Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune who get the local transgender community involved in making murals. Sukumar pointed out that Aravani Art Project is not just about professional mural artists; instead they believe in creating a friendly working space for anybody who is interested to be a part of the team, which has left its mark on the streets of Bengaluru, Mumbai, Jaipur, Chennai, and Pune.
Take Shanti, a transgender and an activist from Bengaluru who was working as a radio jockey and going through a rough phase in her life. She was looking for a medium to vent emotions that had been long suppressed. And nothing could have brought more colour into her life than getting involved in the Project which gave her a chance to bring out her artistic aspect on the streets and walls.
"Art and activism can be combined... which I call as artivism. Art can certainly bring changes in people's perception towards the community. We don't believe in protests, but silently raising voice against the so long persisting discrimination against us through art. The society can see it and leaves an immediate impact on them. Members of the transgender community are perceived as sex workers or beggars," Shanti said.
Like Shanti, Shonali has been associated with the project since its inception. For her, it was not just a chance to translate her imagination on the walls but also a mode to convey the need of awareness – first among the transgender community and then in society.
"We wanted to inform and make the community aware of their own capabilities. Unless the transgenders become aware of their potentialities, bringing change in the community won't be possible. The community needs to know its strengths and perhaps then we can bring a change in our status," said Shonali.
It was not an easy start for Sukumar when she began the project. Her first challenge was to win the trust of the community and get them involved.
"When I discussed the idea with the transgenders, they laughed at it, didn't take it seriously; I had to convince them that the project will help them to uplift their status in society," she recalled.
Both Shanti and Shonali pitched that no matter how progressive the country becomes, people laugh and ridicule at transgenders.
"Art can bring change. Whenever people look at it, they will at least think about the crisis that we face in our lives and might change their perspective towards us," Shonali said.