When it comes to queerness and community, it becomes imperative to seek comfort in togetherness. Collectives for queer people become homes and safe spaces for not just their identities, but places of opportunity for their talents, vocations, and capabilities. The margins at which trans women exist are already narrow. For most, due to no affirmative action measures in education or employment, securing means of income that don’t put them in active threat due to rampant transmisogyny is a distant dream. Places that are usually harmless to most, like the streets, where most trans women turn to to practice sex work or earn through begging, aren’t just exclusionary to trans people, but actively violent towards them.
Hence, the Aravani Art Project’s mission is important. Aravani Art Project is a collective of diverse women artists, who identify across the spectrum as transgender-women, gender-fluid women, and cis-gender women. It ‘seeks to respond to these experiences (of violence and exclusion) by creating spaces that instead encourage exchange, discussion, openness and debate surrounding gender identities.' It has brought together the incredible power of community, and the importance of vocation together, to ensure talented trans women produce art and sustain themselves, while also working towards minimising any violence they could face. ‘By making art together we are seeking to gently reshape the politics of inclusion and exclusion that surround gender identities,’ says the collective.
Aravani works on a project to project basis, on research based and commissioned projects. They work on the design, imagery and message of an artwork by collecting binding stories shared by the community and their clients. They experiment with local colours, patterns, motifs, language, ritual, and story, and produce artworks that are respectful and embracing of local religions and spiritual beliefs. In the time they aren’t doing projects, the team is busy researching and documenting unique localised cultures, rituals, festivals, challenges, concerns, and celebrations of the community within their neighbourhoods. Largely based in Bengaluru, with presence across Chennai and Bombay, the collective has painted walls in public as well as private spheres across these cities. Their work can be seen at places like the Levis HQ in Bangalore, Soho House in Bombay, Lodhi Colony in Delhi, amongst many others.
Currently, the collective’s project with Khoj has caught our attention. Called Yesterday, Today, Everyday, it is a year long timeline of events that will be created and put together by the members of the transgender community across India, in collaboration with artists, photographers, scholars, writers, neighbours, friends and families. ‘It takes a diverse set of practices, ways of thinking and training to allow the people from the community to reflect together to see the beauty in their own lives, which they have led in difficulty. Our project is born out of this vision and more so with the motivation of artistically archiving experiences narrated by the community members, so that they are no longer neglected or disregarded but celebrated and loved,’ informs the collective about the project that was announced in the December of 2020.
Text: Parth Rahatekar