Let Humanity Bloom - Wall Art Project, Chennai

Photo Credits :

Soundar Rajan

Writer :

Shanthi Munisamy

20th August, 2018

I am recalling one of my favorite Mural Art projects, which will always remain in my heart. I left Bangalore with my friend Priyanka Ramu and a volunteer Noella, not knowing what to expect out of Chennai.

Two months prior, we met Sreejith Sundaram, a budding theatre artist and a LGBTQIA rights activist working with the transgender community. He introduced us to the community in Chennai. Eager and curious, I was dreaming of the possibilities that would come my way.

Amidst the sun, sea breeze and the smell of fish on the fishermen port along the seashore, lay a beautiful small colony of quarters that piles up like a deck of cards. This scene welcomed us to a tsunami relief quarters in a small town on the outskirts of Chennai – Ernavur.

We were greeted initially by a young transman Ramesh, who lives with Soundaryamma in her home there. The Tsunami Relief Quarters was granted to the community by the Tamil Nadu government.

There, Soundaryamma mentioned the story of their revolutionary victory of getting the housing from the government. “After constant fight, it was Srijith Sundaram and Dhanam Akka from Snehidi Foundation, who tremendously helped us with it,” said Soundaryamma.

She then introduced us to Reena Amma, Kanchana, Preethi and a few others from the community. That evening, collectively, we went to choose the wall we wanted to paint. We finalized it over cups of tea and conversations.

Next morning, we were up and early to start working. The large wall we chose was in a four-storied building that faced the railway track. After back and forth of waiting, the scaffolding work was finally done. By mid-day, we started sketching.

The sketch we had planned was of Tara’s face. She was a transwoman who was burnt alive in November 2016, in front of the police station in Chennai.

Unfortunately, the Police who are for protecting us, did not protect her in this incident.

We painted the building where Tara lived with Soundaryamma, her best friend and confidant. So, in solidarity with Tara’s death, this wall will always remain in my heart as an ode to her.

Apart from Soundaryamma, I connected well with Kanchana, a friend, art lover and a great soul. Also, Reena amma, who had a large heart and robust personality, took care of all our meals.

What I loved about the first day was the process of ideation over the design of the wall art. We were told that Tara loved Malli Poo (white jasmine) and hence we decided to incorporate that in the painting.

Thus, the first day ended with ideation, conversations and sketching. Thanks to our leading volunteer Deepak Harini, an art enthusiast, who joined us from Bangalore in the afternoon.

The next morning, all of us were up and ready on the scaffolding to start the painting. We started work early in the morning, so we could rest when the Chennai heat would get to us in the day.

During the breaks, we exchanged conversations and experiences about the community’s culture and traditions. I loved sharing stories from my life and hearing about the journeys that they have lived all these years.

I was given love not only by the community, who resided there, but also by all the women and children who were curious to know more and become friends with us. The unconditional love from kids is always overwhelming for me as they have no gender bias.

The following two days, went by quickly in the same routine - painting, conversations, laughter, meals, tiredness and sleep. On the last day, we were in the closing stages of finishing the wall and writing the text. Over the days, we all had discussed what we wanted to write on the wall. We decided on ‘Manidhum Mallaratum’ which means let humanity bloom in Tamil.

The process of watching the wall come together after 5 days of being with the community, was emotional and satisfying.

In our post-event team session, I heard everybody share their experiences from that week.

“It felt like going for a vacation to my aunt’s house, and to be loved and taken care of,” said Poornima. Sadhna was overwhelmed by her experience with the community as she celebrated her birthday there.

“It was better than living in an Airbnb,” she laughed.

Noella, Deepak and all the other volunteers also felt very happy working with the community and being there.

For me, it was an amazing experience with many firsts.

It was the first time I had travelled to Chennai specially to meet and interact with my community personally and in-depth. And, I witnessed people across communities living together seamlessly. There was no room for biases, as love ruled there.

I overcame the fear of heights and climbed a wall which was more than 40ft. I’m a person, who takes long time to make connections with people. But when I met Kanchana, I instantly felt a bond with her as though I’d known her for all my life - a soulful connection started. I strongly overcame every fear I had in terms of executing art on a large wall.

With plenty of firsts, to many new beginnings, Chennai was everything to me.

I am Shanthi Muniswamy, a trans artist, poet and blogger. As the documentarian at The Aravani Art Project, I bring stories to you from our projects. Especially, stories that move my heart and will resonate with me forever. I am sharing these experiences, with a hope to build acceptance and love towards my community.