These trans women speak inclusion in language of art

Members and volunteers of the Aravani Art Project paint a mural on the outer wall of the 50-year-old Balaji Bar & Restaurant in Majestic on Sunday. DH PHOTO/AKHIL KADIDAL

A small group of transgender women in Bengaluru have been creating art murals across the country in an effort to change the way the public views the community.

On Sunday, the group was painting the 50-year-old Balaji Bar & Restaurant on SC Road in Majestic, much to the befuddlement of the largely working-class male clientele, who demanded to know what financial benefit the group hoped to get by painting up the place with brightly coloured flowers, parrots and chevrons.

Speaking to DH, Shanti Sonu (37), a transgender artist, said the wall murals, part of the ‘Navu Idivi’ (we are also here) campaign, aims to reclaim public spaces and draw attention to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community.

Shanti, who serves as a documentarian for the Aravani Art Project, the brainchild behind the campaign, said the art has a singular purpose: “To say that we also exist in society and our legitimate place in it must be recognised.” 

According to Poornima Sukumar, an artist who co-founded Aravani in 2016, transgender people in the city continue to face discrimination despite the scrapping of Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code in September 2018, effectively decriminalising homosexuality.

Jyothi, a 38-year-old transgender woman who came to Bengaluru in 1992 to escape the growing and violent criticism of her sexuality at her village outside Hubballi, said like many transgender girls, she was rapidly forced into the sex trade in order to survive.

“The scrapping of Section 377 has improved matters, but we are still harassed on the streets by youths, rowdies and even the police,” Jyothi said, adding that creating art, however, has given her dreams of becoming a full-time artist.

Kerry Kat, an Australian native who lives in the city and volunteers with Aravani, said the common denominator uniting many transgender women is their traumatisation in the sex trade.

“Through art, role models are being formed within the LGBT community to help young transgender women leave the sex trade,” Kerry said. 

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