The Aravani Art Project was created by Poornima Sukumar in January 2016. It aims to create a collective space for people from the transgender community by engaging them into public art and other interventions. It wants to create a safe space for alternate voices and allow their expression.

Poornima Sukumar first interacted with the transgender community when she worked with a London-based documentary filmmaker who was shooting a film which was focussed on the transgender community in Chennai and Bangalore. When the project ended, she was reluctant to end the relationships she had begun to form with the women.

After discussing the project with people from the community, she decided to found the Aravani Art Project, and paint walls along with them. They have now done 10 projects over 6 cities.

“I am constantly learning from the community everyday. I am so humbled by their approach in life and how unconditional their love is. I’m always inspired about their bravery to stand up against all odds and live a life of dignity, with hurdles like discrimination, violence and mostly a lot of ignorance,” says Poornima.

The name for the project – Aravani – came after Poornima attended the Koovagam festival in Tamil Nadu, a huge annual festival that is attended by the transgender and intersex community, which is held in a Koothandavar Temple which worships Lord Aravan. The festival had a huge impact on Poornima, and she remembered the name from three years ago when she started this project in 2016. “Aravani” literally means a person who worships Lord Aravan.

Poornima wants the bridge the divide between the two worlds she inhabits. “They say, “Change begins at home”. Well, to me, home was all the people around me. How do I give them a glimpse of how their lives are so similar to ours?” she said.

The team has two core members from the transgender community – Priyanka Divakar and Shanti Sonu. Each project’s location is decided jointly, where Priyanka and Shanti throw light on the trans communities present in each city and they begin research on the project. The walls they paint on are always in a location close to where a transgender community lives to make sure that the women are not uprooted from their base whilst painting the wall.

Poornima works closely with Poornima and Shanti to ensure the success of the project with new communities. “The very fact that they believed in the project and joined it has been a huge milestone for us,” says Poornima of the two women.

“We as transgenders are capable of doing beautiful things too; hopefully the society understands this,” says Shanti, who had a difficult past. “Unfortunately, I found myself caught up into the system of being a sex worker – the hardships are difficult to talk about. However, I’m proud to say that I used to work part time as a radio jockey at a community radio station called Radio Active and now I have joined the Aravani Art Project as a full time supporter. I love looking beyond what I have been told to do. I have always been inclined towards art and it has let me manifest my thoughts, I enjoy reading and writing poetry during my free time.”

The Aravani Art Project recently launched their new website and they are open to collaborations, donations, or talks. They can be reached at aravaniartproject@gmail.com.


All images via Poornima Sukumar.

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