Art as a tool for integration in India

The Aravani Art Project’s painted murals work to integrate India’s transgender community.

Transgenders live on the margins of society in India. Despite legal recognition as a third gender in 2014, transgender persons are still unable to find work and are forced to turn to prostitution for a source of income. Poornima Sukumar, a 27-year-old artist from Bangalore, is trying to provide a new outlet for transgenders through art and creativity.

Sukumar launched the Aravani Art Project to “create platforms for the Transgender Community creating consciousness, well-being through art, awareness & social participation.” She invites members of the transgender community to paint murals in community spaces in India.

According to Good Magazine, contracted artists are paid for their work and those who participate are given a new way to engage with the community. While this may seem insignificant, it is a huge step for the transgender community who are often only associated with sex.

Sukumar told the magazine that she hopes to be seen as a bridge between the fractured community and the greater community in India. “I don’t want to be a leader [for the community],” she was quoted as saying. “I want to be received as approachable, an access point for inclusion. I’d like to make ten more people ‘approachable’ like me. That’s the goal.”

Speaking to Homegrown, Sukumar said the transgender community had a major impact on her during her three-year involvement in a documentary alongside documentary filmmaker Tabs Breese. Once filming wrapped in November, Sukumar felt she could not leave behind the people she had met. “I decided I wanted to do something in the only way that I could — art,” she said.

Sukumar plans to expand the project to festivals across the country.