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. Collectives of artists have begun popping up all over the world allowing independent artists to come together for important projects while at the same time maintaining their independent artistic voices. As the creative industries take flight in India, our hometown of Bangalore has seen a rise in co-working spaces, creative collectives, and art collectives. Such collectives shape diverse social and cultural movements while the collaborations they encourage nurture influential art and artists.
The open and fluid structure of our collective allows us to respond to the needs of the transgender community in India as well as to the visions of those who wish to work with us. We are able to create beautiful social interventions into local communities and neighbourhoods and we are also able to paint the small walls of private homes and businesses. Anyone who wishes to acknowledge, support and encourage acceptance and awareness is able to collaborate with us to create the change they so desire in their local community, business or family.
We work on a project-by-project basis. This allows us to respond to the particular needs of the community, client, or contract with which we’re collaborating at the time. We create the design, focus and message of an artwork together with our community and clients. Each project is different to the next and we remain flexible to these contexts. As a collective of artists, we are familiar and comfortable with the unexpected inspirations, influences, negotiations, and compromises involved in the collaborative process.
Public-art interventions are an important part of the Aravani Art Project. We believe that rigorous research and open dialogue are the foundations to these works. Our team spend anywhere from three to six months working with transgender communities to gain an understanding of the unique localised cultures, rituals, festivals, poojas, challenges, concerns, and celebrations within their neighbourhoods. Over cups of chai, delicious lunches and sweets our friendships grow into the spaces for creation and sharing. We experiment with local colours, patterns, motifs, language, ritual, and story and we respect and embrace local religions and spiritual beliefs. The wall paintings that come about as a result of these friendships are not designed solely by the Aravani Art Project but are instead designed in collaboration with the communities with which we work.
In India, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) can include societies registered with the central government of India, public and private trusts, and non-profit companies.
We are, in short, none of these.
We are, however, proud to be members of the global health volunteer alliance, Aarogya Seva. The Aravani Art project is part of the “Art for Aarogya” volunteering program driven by the spirit of seva – a Sanskrit word that means ‘selfless service’. Such service is the inherent human quality that moves us to empathize with others and Aarogya Seva’s Founder and Director, Dr. Dayaprasad G Kulkarni, believes art plays an important role in developing the mental wellbeing that so impacts upon physical health.
Sometimes, in working with NGO’s, corporate companies, events and festivals, it’s required that Aravani Art Project be registered as an NGO. In such cases, Aarogya Seva handles donations and collaborations. You can read more about them here: www.aarogyaseva.org/about-us/
The Aravani Art project is an artist collective motivated to create interactive and engaging murals throughout India and, hopefully soon, across the world. We are determined to see that each of the artists we work with are paid for their skills and talent. We share our creative effort through creative commons and expect that the communities with which we work are paid for their time, skills, and input just like any other artist.
We are not a charity but a group of hard working artists, designers and researchers driven by passion and expression. We are configured in such a way that each member of our collective can also work independently and among us we have many and varied skill-sets and professional experiences. Our core team includes an illustrator, a poet, a radio jockey and journalist, a wall painter, and a freelance creative and scholar. We each take our skills and apply them where we can to create social and cultural change.
Aravani Art Project is named after an experience that profoundly changed the life-course of Poornima Sukumar, the project’s founder and director, and led to the Aravani Art Project’s humble beginnings.
While working as a documentary researcher, Poornima attended the Koovagam Festival in Tamil Nadu. The annual festival re-enacts the Hindu mythological story of Lord Vishnu taking the female form of Mohini to marry the ill-fated Lord Koothandavar, or Lord Aravan. The mourning and dancing associated of the festival opened Poornima’s mind to a world she had never met before. She made friendships during those days in Tamil Nadu that so deeply impacted her that upon returning home to Bangalore she became determined to dedicate her life to her transgender friends and to create safe spaces for open dialogue and exchange.
The name “Aravani” refers to a person who worships Lord Aravan, the patron Hindu god for transgender people in Tamil Nadu and it is used by our art collective as a tribute to the projects powerful and at once humble beginnings.
India is a wonderfully diverse place with many identities and languages. With each new city and each new sect of the community we learn more about just how diverse this country is. Aravani carries with it it’s own localised language and identity. We are aware and respectful of the various religious, socio-cultural and personal preferences within the diverse transgender communities in India and our project is motivated to include everyone.
Names and words are very powerful things and naming our project has been one of the bigger challenges we've faced. Although we have settled on Aravani, we work hard not to let it be an exclusive marker for who we will and won’t include in our work. We are in solidarity with every human being within the community, the people who support them, and the people who are encouraging us to learn about and understand one another better.
If you like what we do and would like to contribute then there are a number of ways you can lend a helping hand to the Aravani Art Project
We are always on the look out for an interesting wall to paint so we can create interactive public spaces. If you have a wall that you’d like to donate to the project, or if you’re able to help with wall permissions or know of someone who can, then please get in touch!
If you know of other activists and artists who are generating social and cultural change in interesting and creative ways, introduce us so we can learn from one another and support each other. If you’re a blogger, or writer, journalist, zine creator, or magazine owner get in touch to cover one of our events, public art interventions, or even a life story of one of our friends.
If you are a curator of an art festival, a wall artist, or a gallery owner who would like to collaborate then we’d love to hear from you.
If you work in a corporate company, small business, attend college or university, or you’re part of a cultural institution then invite us to give a talk to your staff, students, or members.
We work on a project-by-project basis, so if you would like to sponsor a public art intervention then please get in touch. If you’d like to fund a wall painting in your city with your local transgender community then also please send an e-mail to discuss how to move forward.
If you’d like to volunteer, check out our little section on volunteering below.
If you have collaborated with us before and created a life changing moment, we’d love to hear it! Share your experiences with us so we can better document the impacts of our work. If you’d like to share your cherished memories, then please send your personal stories and any photographs you might have via e-mail.
And, as always, anyone can come down and join us while we paint! Pick up a paintbrush, start a conversation, share a cup of chai, and begin a friendship. Become a small but powerful advocate for change in your own network of friends and family.
These are just some of the ways we think you can contribute but if you can think of more then please get in touch. We revel in fresh ideas and new perspectives.
Directly to our collaborating artists and core team. How these funds are managed is dependent on the way the particular project is structured. Each project is different to the next. Some of the main categories of projects we have identified come under the broad groupings of: independent freelance work, public-art happenings for social and cultural change, corporate contracts and government programmes.
For most of these types of projects Aravani Art Project works as a team of artists and designers who invoice for their skills, talent and design labour. Project costs are mostly estimated by wall size, paint and labour requirements and in consultation with the client.
Aarogya Seva handles donations to Aravani Art Project and access to these funds must be applied for and rationalised by Aravani Art Project. The release of funds is subject to the approval of Aarogya Seva. These donations are used to cover the costs associated of creating public-art happenings, or wall paintings in public spaces, with a transgender community. Members of the community that collaborate with us as artists are paid for their work. While we paint together, Aravani Art Project also covers costs such as food, water, tea, coffee, scaffolding, paint, buckets and brushes for the community. Sometimes these funds come from donations, sometimes they’re from both public and private sponsorship for a particular project, but most of the time these funds come from our pockets.
Our wall paintings as public art interventions are an important part of our motivation to raise awareness and to create acceptance of the transgender community in India. Aravani Art Project has been funding these public art interventions with the income generated by freelance projects and corporate contracts. Funding our projects with the money made from our work as an art collective has allowed us to maintain a freedom of voice and spirit. We look forward to collaborations that also seek and inspire this same spirit in our public wall painting projects for social and cultural change.
Aravani Art Project creates wall-art in a space of gender fluidity. Our project has gradually attracted its core team in an organic way without using call-outs or requests for people to join. Over time, we have become a band of transgender-women, gender-fluid, gender non-binary and cis-women identifying artists. However, we believe that gender identity is much more wonderfully complicated and diverse than many of us understand. There is a gender binary of male and female but it is a small part of a spectrum of gender identity.
The term ‘Transgender’ is a broad umbrella term for the exciting variety of life that exists beneath it. In India there are many unique transgender communities and sects including Thirunangai, Thirunambi, Shiv-Shakti, Hijra, Aravani, Mangalamukhi, Kothi, Kinnar, Marladi, and Jogappa, to name only a few that we have collaborated with so far. Around the world ‘Transgender’ is a term that can be used to describe those who have transitioned from one biologically determined sex to another; Female-to-Male (FTM) or from Male-to-Female (MTF). The term ‘Transgender’ can also be used when describing someone who feels they’re not of the gender binary, identifying as neither male nor female. It can also be a self-identifying term used by those who describe themselves as gender-queer and gender-fluid and who express their gender in ways that challenge preconceived notions of how male and female people should present themselves in their day-to-day lives. Aravani Art Project firmly believes in meeting individuals on their own terms, whatever they may be, and using the pronouns they invite you to use when speaking to them.
We are a project focused on creating inclusivity and openness and welcome the opportunity to extend our reach to anyone interested in working with the Aravani Art Project. In India, transgender-men are some of the most under-recognised people amongst the country’s population and we would welcome anyone identifying as a transgender-man, a gender-fluid man, gender-queer man or a cis-man to please reach out to us so that we can create a more inclusive project and a more inclusive world.
Aravani Art Project loves working with anyone who shares our vision, who can open our minds to new ways of thinking, and broaden our horizons of understanding.
We have worked alongside activists and the general public, with artists and curators, school-teachers and students, CEOs, managing directors and corporate employees. We have created wall paintings for colleges, private businesses, large corporate companies, health organisations, public schools, libraries, private homes, art festivals and LGBTQiA events. Members of our core team have also given gender sensitisation seminars to small businesses, at colleges throughout India, at TEDx, during LGBTQiA events, and delivered leadership talks at corporate podiums.
We are open to working with those who are eagerly and earnestly seeking change for the transgender communities of India and throughout the world and who understand the power of painting to get the conversation started.
The core team of the Aravani Art Project believe in taking the time to understand what you’re capable of as an individual and then using your capabilities to contribute to the world around you. So far we are a team of artists, journalists and scholars. We have created walls across India that are the remnants of conversations amongst community, the general public and other artists. We have collected stories and documented our work and are currently seeking the funding to curate what we have uncovered during our time as an art collective. We are open to collaborate with those skilled in statistics, psychology and sociology who could document the impacts of our works in quantitative ways.
If you are interested in creating artwork and you spend your free-time creating designs, illustrations, drawings, paintings, taking photographs, playing with colour, writing poetry or stories we’d love to hear from you! Aravani Art Project is always keen to have more members in our growing collective.
Although we are not an NGO and have no formal structures for finding employment for members of the transgender community, we are in touch with a number of business owners throughout Bangalore and we can put you in touch with them.
The lives of transgender people in India are marked by prejudice and trauma but also by joy, laughter and belonging. People who identify as Transgender enjoy doing the work that brings them meaning in life, just as any human being does. If you can provide job opportunities that can enrich the lives of others then please get in touch.
As we mentioned earlier, Aravani Art Project is not an NGO with formal structures for connecting employees with suitable transgender candidates. But, we like to help out where we can. We have assisted many advisory boards of corporate companies, human rights organisations, cultural institutions and even small business owners to shape their gender inclusion and gender diversity programmes and policies.
Our work with Aravani Art Project has created rich friendships with diverse transgender communities in India. We have all learned much more from each other than we ever expected and we are continuing to discover new pathways of understanding. We treasure the opportunities to take some of what we have learned and to use it to help you to create better working environments with and for gender diverse people.
The pace of the Aravani Art Project is fast, sometimes chaotic, always fun, and definitely colourful. If you feel like this is for you, then we’re always on the look out for volunteers. Right now we’re looking for people who can help us with social media content, assist with the logistics of wall paintings, inspire friends and family, and bring us new and fresh ideas.
If you have a plan in mind for how you would like to assist the collective or an idea for a project, then please send us an e-mail. If you’re not yet sure how you’d like to be involved then hit ‘follow’ on Instagram and ‘like’ on Facebook to keep an eye out for upcoming projects and opportunities.
Of course, anyone can join us while we paint walls. The more the merrier!
Transgender culture is gaining an increased attention around the world. We have been delighted by the opportunities this brings to talk about issues that are important to us and that we hold dear to our heart.
Researchers, journalists and photographers who are seeking to document transgender culture in India often approach Aravani Art Project. We have been blessed thus far with many fruitful collaborations.
It is important to note, however, that this is a politically charged arena and the lives of the people we work with carry deeply personal stories. We do not give access to these stories lightly and we do not expose the communities we work with to situations that may jeopardise their safety or reputations.
Now that the tough talking is over, we’re determined to contribute to an increased knowledge and awareness of transgender issues and culture. If your work as a photographer, journalist or researcher is working toward this goal also then please get in contact to arrange a Skype meeting or interview.