#ArtForChange - Public Murals For Transgender Community
A Bangalore based wall artist, Poornima Sukumar, is slowly capturing attention of the passers-by. Her unique art project called Aravani is creating awareness and consciousness about the transgender community. A fine arts graduate and a Tedx fellow, Poornima is a painter, muralist, social worker, explorer, clubbed all into one.
We had a hearty talk with this amazing artist and, got to know about the Aravani art project, which is working toward bringing forth the trials and tribulations of the transgender community to the common man’s notice.
Poornima, what drove you towards art and why murals?
As poetic as it sounds, more than me choosing art...Art chose me. At a time where there were barely 2 choices every youngster would have, Science or Commerce, just walking past Chitrakala Parishat (the fine-arts college) changed my life. I always wanted to be an astronaut, but I am so glad my parents were open minded to let me do fine-arts! The first two years of taking up Fine arts right after my 10th grade (without having to study 11th or 12th) was by far the most exciting part of my life. Since I was clueless about the field and it just fell like an opportunity on my lap, I took a while to understand why I was doing art. Now I feel like it is the most perfect calling.
How was the experience of painting your first mural?
I always fancied painting on large surfaces, I started off by painting walls in my friend’s houses. They were supportive and encouraged me further. It was a very new thing for all of us, to just hang out and paint a wall. Slowly I started getting paid for painting walls. My first public wall was with The Neighbourhood Art Festival in Bangalore, it was ecstatic. I loved the freedom of space and the boldness it required. It was like performing in the streets. I used to like the interactions that happened and how we could reclaim a dead wall and bring it to life.
How did the Aravani art project came into existence?
I have always been fascinated by the fact that art can make places and people feel so colourful and evoke emotions. It is interesting to see how the atmosphere changes once art is around.
I was given a beautiful opportunity to work on a documentary with a London based film-maker about Transgender women in India. The documentary went on for about 3 and a half years, I worked so closely with the transwomen and the community, it was absolutely stunning to know them in person. Once the documentary was completed, I did not want my association with them to wither off. What began as an experiment earlier this year, where I invited all my artist friends around to come along and paint walls with the Transgender community, since it was necessary for my friends to not have that stigma and break myths. Eventually, it became an open event where everyone painted together and shared such interesting conversations. It was overwhelming.
What got you to work so closely with the transgender community?
To add on to the above already mentioned answer, I am and always will be intrigued by their bravery towards the world. They are ready to face and go against all odds, just because they want to be true to what they feel. It is an important lesson for all of us who suck up to society norms and feel tied up.
Transgenders do not need sympathy, they need acceptance. They are no different from us, they deserve equal right to education, identity and right to work. We as a society need to create opportunities or include them in our everyday lives. We need to stop laughing at them and teasing them in public places.
Streetwall art is a relatively new concept in India, how did you go about obtaining permissions for murals?
It depends on the location of where the mural is going to be, we have seen people being okay and willing to give us permissions versus shooing us away like we would create a mess. I usually tend to paint within small suburbs or slum dwellings because I believe that art should reach them as well. And when it comes to social issues, it’s best done at the place where the issue exists.
Would you like to share some stories on how the project helped creating awareness amongst people?
The project has become a medium or acts like a bridge for people who are so disconnected from the issue. Of course we are not calculating the reach but several people, newspapers, blogs and talkshop pages just like yours have heard about us and that is just the start. We have had several stories and experiences pertaining to awareness.
We would like to know your team members’ experiences who are working on this project?
Personally, the project has changed me. I started to realise that they are all as normal as we could be and that there was nothing to be afraid of (possibly the worst mindset I could have grown up with). Combining her strengths of being an amazing muralist with her immense love towards the Transgender community was just the perfect way for her to kick start this amazing project.
Painting a wall of that size in less than a week around a busy road such as that definitely got some onlookers talking. Even something as small as noticing that and being curious is enough for people to want to know more and also spread the word at the same time.
I love this project. With all my heart, soul, sweat and tears. Everyday from the 23rd of January till today, I am glad I have been able to be a part of this project. Having dealt with body issues of a different flavour myself, I was scared and intimidated both.
I more than stumbled my way into this project! From a designer, an identity creator, a creative lead, a colour decider, a friend, a human and now to a huge beating heart marks my growth in this project.
Growing up I used to be scared/ intimidated by individuals from the transgender community. This fear was replaced with a sense of empathy as I grew older. Everyday spent on the project has been one of learning. Watching and listening to all the conversations and camaraderie that were shared by the members of the transgender community with all the members collaborating on the project, makes me realise how they have touched all our lives in different ways, leaving us with this urge to evolve into more open, understanding and accepting individuals.
Share your fun memories of being associated with the Aravani art project?
My first cherished memory would be when I was so nervous about my first project, we have had endless discussions, arguments and planning through the madness and friends/artists flew down from Mumbai and Delhi just to be a part of the project, it was absolutely heart warming.
Second would be, when we always end the project by going to local hang-outs with the Transgender community, it makes them feel so included and feel nothing less than a large group of friends who trust each other and look out for each other.
What is your advice for budding art professionals or someone who want to take up art in future?
If you believe that art has power to make changes, the following will imply.
It’s a beautiful struggle. Try everything that comes your way, do not be hesitant and have dignity of labour. It is important to experience all walks of life. Even though ignorance is bliss, try not to run away from anything that moves you. Be in it, be moved. Stay grounded and do not get caught in a rat race, it’s a trap in the end! Above all, never stop creating!
Tell us about your upcoming projects?
As of now we have 2 projects lined up, one being raising awareness and voice for Tara, a transgender woman who recently succumbed to death in Chennai. We would be painting her portrait on the wall with the help of her friends. Our second possibility of a project is with the Bangalore Pride which recently took place in a massive scale. So another wall painting in Bangalore.