The Aravani Art Project is an artistic collective that creates spaces for people from the transgender community to connect with other communities and cultures in their local neighbourhoods. Through public art and interventions, the Aravani Art Project reclaims the streets on which so many transgender people suffer violence and discrimination. In collaboration with fellow artists, photographers, filmmakers, neighbours, friends and family, we mark these spaces with the colours of life in celebration of the community. Our murals become the vibrant remnants of conversations between cultures that strengthen community bonds and build friendships across differences.
The increased visibility of transgender people in popular culture is yet to translate into an increased safety and awareness for the lives of transgender people on the streets of their cities, towns and villages. There is still much work to do and the Aravani Art Project believes that every local conversation can build toward a global impact. Our artistic interventions into neighbourhoods all over the world give a voice to those who might be nervous or afraid to step out from the shadows, into the light of each other’s worlds.
These exchanges between cultures happen with a paintbrush in hand and our artistic projects aim to reduce the discrimination, stigma, and systemic inequality faced by transgender people in many parts of the world. Our murals certainly create a striking visibility in public spaces but we practice art as a conversation. Painting together with the transgender community allows us all to talk to one another in ways that were not possible before. Our interventions become the safe spaces for alternate voices and open minds.
Our mission is to contribute to building connections with the transgender community in a creative way so that we might all learn to see one another in a new light.
We create safe spaces for alternate voices through art as a social practice.
In collaboration with the transgender community we dive deep into a unique culture and explore traditional practices. We examine their spaces of innovation, the places of their history and create room to learn by transforming this knowledge into public art.
The streets are a particularly important place to do our work, as it is in these public spaces that the bodies of Transgender identifying people are subjected to violence, harassment, social negligence and pressure. Our creative collective seeks to respond to these experiences by creating spaces that encourage exchange, discussion, openness and debate surrounding gender categories and identities. The visibility of the transgender figure has begun to disrupt long-held beliefs about gender and the ways we organize our lives around categories of gender. By making art together we are seeking to gently reshape the politics of inclusion and exclusion that surround gender identities.
The struggle for accepting and understanding the identities of Transgender individuals exists in each society, race, and class. We use the term Transgender to encompass the variety of life that exists under this broad umbrella term. This includes, among many other categories, those who identify as a Transgender woman, a Transgender man, as gender variant, gender non-conforming, gender non-binary, gender fluid and gender queer.
In India, where this project was founded, identity rights for the transgender community have always been an issue. From India, our project is growing and reaching out into the world. We aim to touch the lives of the people from the transgender community in different parts of the world to create a sense of well being through art based activities.
We also want to recognise the strengths in the arts and find an alternative source of income for the transgender community through freelance art and design projects. In doing so, we develop organizational skills and advocate social change by raising community awareness in public places.
We have a passion for art as a social practice. Through our creative collaborations we want to raise awareness of the social possibilities of art making and the conversations that it enables.
The Aravani Art Project was born out of friendship and creativity. The life paths of Poornima Sukumar, Priyanka Divaakar, Sadhna Prasad, Shanthi Sonu, and Viktor Baskin criss-crossed and tangled together to bind them to a small dream that has grown into a productive and energetic artistic collective.
The group share the belief that art making can push beyond stigma and myth to build new futures for silenced voices. Poornima Sukumar, is the driving force behind the project that attracted this dynamic team. Her life as a freelance artist and traveller took her to remote parts of India where she built friendships with some of India’s most marginalised people. Painting became a way to create an exchange with these communities. Poornima realised that through making art together she could learn from the experiences of others, she could give something back to the people who had so welcomed and nurtured her, and together they could create spaces for identities that live on the edges of mainstream culture and society.
In 2012, amongst all her many projects, Poornima began work as a researcher and producer for a documentary film about the transgender community in India. The production lasted three years and as the film drew to a close she found it difficult to imagine her life without the close friendships she’d made during the production. Over lunches, dinners and cups of chai with her transgender friends, Poornima blended her old life with her new one and founded the Aravani Art Project. She invited her close friends to come and paint with her transgender friends and the project grew gently and organically from these first relaxed encounters.
Poornima’s passion for social causes, human welfare, story telling, and authentic connections soon brought her into the world of another equally passionate artist, Sadhna Prasad. Sadhna had recently returned from London where she’d completed her MA in visual arts illustration. She was on the path to finding her own style and voice and looking to collaborate. Together the pair worked on many projects with women, children, remote rural communities and people from the transgender community. Sadhna, and Poornima began to develop the project’s iconic graphic style and intensely collaborative approach with the community.
Priyanka Divaakar, India’s first transgender radio-jockey, heard about a wall painting being done in Bangalore with the transgender community and came to see what all the commotion was about. Priyanka very quickly began to strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone who was painting the wall or walking by on the street. She became one of the collective’s principal artists and the project’s ambassador and cultural advisor. With Priyanka on board, The Aravani Art Project was beginning to take shape, to become more organised, and to find attention and funding. One day, at a well-known Bangalore art market, Shanthi Sonu approached Poornima. She was also a radio jockey with Radio Active and had heard about the Aravani Art Project through facebook. She was stunned to learn that the project was home grown in Bangalore. Shanthi often describes meeting Poornima for the first time, saying they were “instantly bonded and from then on it was magic”. Shanthi became an artist with the Aravani Art Project and together Priyanka and Shanthi help to document the stories of the transgender community and guide the project’s research.
As the Aravani Art Project turned one year old, Viktor Baskin walked into Poornima’s colourful home and the meeting place for the art collective. She was traveling as an anthropologist who was exploring the visual cultures of transgender activists and artists in India. She discovered the Aravani Art Project through media coverage and mutual friends and travelled to Bangalore to meet the team. The project’s passion, diversity and drive resonated with all that Viktor had discovered in her own research and wanderings. She soon joined the team as a producer to help with writing, documenting and funding.
The Aravani Art Project continues to grow in this organic way. The project’s structure takes its inspiration from creative collectives around the world and the team maintain their flexible structure without giving a strict hierarchy to the group. Everyone juggles a number of their own projects and brings their personal work to the Aravani Art Project as inspiration for new ideas and directions. This flexibility means the project remains open to respond to community needs and to the opportunities that arise to create public art with all kinds of marginalised voices.