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Empowering The Transgender Community Through Art

Empowering The Transgender Community Through Art

Poornima Sukumar, an Indian artist, launched Aravani Art Project in January 2016 with an aim to integrate the transgender community into mainstream society through art. With a year long successful run and their 6th project coming to a close, she talks to FSOG about how she started this initiative and what propelled her into action.

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“I was working on a documentary about the transgender community 3 years ago. I was the assistant director. The director, being based in London, was unable to converse with the people in any of the Indian languages. Therefore, I was assigned to do most of the talking and got a chance to get to know their stories.”

Gradually her conversations with different trans people intertwined into deep relationships.

“Most of them depend on sex work or beg to make their ends meet. I wanted to start something that would help them earn a living,” she said.

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They say, all good things come to an end and so did the filming for the documentary. Yet, Poornima’s will to make a change persevered.

“After we finished filming, the crew packed up and left India. And here I was, still thinking about the Trans community and how I could empower them, make them feel accepted in their own country. Hence, Aravani Art Project happened.”

Already being a well-established painter, Poornima assertively shares what priorities she has always carried.

“Being an artist is a secondary thing. Everyone should be a human being first.”

She continues, “I had the knowledge and I was hell bent on making knowledge accessible to everybody else. Oil painting was my medium to educate and make people aware about trans rights. Because at the end of the day, transgender rights are human rights!”

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One of their first few wall arts saw three trans people as a part of the painting. They stood with their backs painted, facing the wall, signifying that they were not outside the painting but within it.

“Since they like bright colours because they feel colourful from inside, we decided on a vibrant palette. The imagery was drawn from geometry so that it was easy to include them. The objective was inclusion. I keep going back to the site and have noticed the sense of pride they take in the art work. They tell people that they have done it.”

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Having already been featured in Deccan Herald, The Hindu, DNA, Women’s Era, Femina, Good Magazine, Scroll, the project’s popularity is definitely rising. They have had 6 projects in the last 11 months. The projects range from KR Market of Bengaluru to even Sri Lanka.

Portrait of a Transgender woman in Sri Lanka by Aravani Art Project.
Portrait of a Transgender woman in Sri Lanka by Aravani Art Project.

“Our vision is to have a very organic growth of conversations and knowing everybody as humans rather than confining them to a particular sexual orientation or gender. We also want to make the art fraternity heterogeneous.”

Written By Niharika Gaur

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