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Aravani Art Project: Painting the art of inclusion

The team of Mumbai Live recently got in touch with the Aravani Art Project which aims to create a collective space for the transgender community.

Aravani Art Project: Painting the art of inclusion

The team of Mumbai Live recently got in touch with the Aravani Art Project which aims to create a collective space for the transgender community. In order to do so, the group tries to curate collaborative public art/wall art projects to raise voice and awareness about the friendship between trans-women and women in public spaces.

Headquartered in Bangalore, Aravani, which is spearheaded by Poornima Sarkar has active teams in Mumbai and Chennai and Delhi. We spoke to Aditi Patkar, one of the core members and artists of the Aravani Art Project who gave us an insight into the group and their hopes and ambitions for the LGBTQ community.  

What inspired you to convene the Aravani Art Project?

We are a collective group of people called the Aravani Art Project. Basically our foray is into making public art and murals and raising voices and awareness about the transgender community, trans-woman or otherwise women in public spaces. The whole thing started around five years ago when Poornima, the founder, along with Sadhna, the art director, took up this project looking at the relationship they have had with the trans women working with them over the years on smaller projects. We want the people to be aware of who trans-woman are in public places, also have a voice and obviously, do this through art.  

Aravani Art Project has gone international with the group painting the Facebook headquarters. How was that experience?

With Facebook, it was a beautiful opportunity that we got two years ago. The whole point was to bring more visibility to the community, to take them along and experience not just painting, but painting in another country where there is awareness being built about the trans way of life. So, Facebook helped a lot to catapult in saying a lot of the things we wanted to in our everyday work. There were a lot of hassles as well, we also had to take four of our team members who were employed with us at that point, they are a part of our core team. It was also not easy to get trans-women to come to work every day because they have a lot of reservations as well. We faced a lot of difficulties with our authorities and their authorities in terms of getting visas. We stayed there for about a month, so it was a beautiful experience.

You have done commendable work in Dharavi. How has the perception of transgender artists and your art projects changed over the course of time in urban slums and/or peripheral areas?

With Dharavi particularly, we just did not want to do a mural. We wanted to make a genuine effort for people to get to know our team, for us to do things within the area, to encourage people, to help them understand what exactly we are doing. For Dharavi specifically, we did a two to a three-week workshop with women from the Sneha Foundation, which is based in Mumbai. We did a workshop where we tried to understand these women who have suffered from abuse; marital or otherwise, along with our trans-woman who conducted this workshop. From there we pushed it into the zone of art where we asked them to get an object that they identify with strength or love so we used that object and spray painted around Dharavi. From there we went to a government school in Dharavi to sensitize them about the transgender community. It was a municipality school, so it was a big deal for us to talk to them.

Your team painted the Sonagachi building in Calcutta which is a multi-storey brothel in the city. Tell us more about that experience.

So what we usually do is, if we go to Calcutta, we will paint with the trans-women in the city. There are few that we take from here, maybe one or two, just to have that extension of friendship but beyond that, we like to work with people from that area. The point is to give people more visibility to what we are doing, it is easier to take a team with us and go but we do not. The execution of it was the beautiful part, we would go to the other side of the building and from there we would evaluate if it is looking right or wrong. So it is very customized, every time we do something.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced so far?

Even today, we can go to a corporate and they will not talk properly. Sometimes when we are called for some workshops, sometimes people just do not understand how they need to behave. So these things still exist, it has more to do with how we can explain to people how they need to behave. Also, our relationship with them is so beautiful, that it makes other people also comfortable. These guys are not some weird creatures right; they are human beings. See, there are tons of challenges when you go to public places where someone passes a remark or a teasing gesture, our response could be of anger but now I think we have gotten to a point where we have started having open discussions. So if someone calls out something bad to a trans-woman, we try to have a dialogue with these people and explain things to them.

How has the government sector or the authorities have helped you?

Very recently about six months ago, thanks to one of our partners, we were able to go to government schools. Every week we had one hour of lectures with the kids where we did different activities. Our entire team of trans-women who conducted the project would talk to the kids, not just talk, play games or do art together. Apart from that, the murals that we have painted were in collaboration with certain governments. So there is always a local government or municipality involved ensuring the execution happens nicely. In Dharavi, the cops were there to ensure everything happens smoothly. They are actually far friendlier and nicer than what we make out to be.

How do you see the Aravani Art Project shaping up in the future?

The future is very uncertain at this point with where we see ourselves. What we want to do is go far deeper, not just the metropolitan cities but to tier two, tier three cities to build awareness. Again, we want to build a safe environment wherever we go. There are a lot of softer things that we want to focus on and beyond that, I think we will use art just to paint as many murals as possible once this pandemic is over.

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