by Sofia Silei

Can artistic expression be a political and social message of peace? The Aravani Art Project in India is trying to do just that. The organisation aims to create a space where people from transgender communities can come together to create, collaborate and engage in various artistic projects. The artwork is then produced through collaboration between transgender artists and some cisgender allies trained to paint and execute art projects on commission.

In terms of governance, Aravani Art Project is registered under the Society Registration Act 1960. It has a seven-member committee. The project is run by both trans and cis women. Despite increasing visibility in popular culture and everyday life, transgender people still face discrimination and systemic inequalities. Therefore, the mission of the Aravani Art Project is to change societal perceptions of LGBTQIA+ people through artistic endeavour. This serves to raise awareness and amplify the voices of the community, enabling LGBTQIA+ people to feel safe in public spaces.

The primary site of artistic activity is the street, where both transgender and cisgender people are vulnerable to violence, harassment, social neglect and pressure. Therefore, Aravani’s mission is also to promote exchange, discussion, openness and debate on gender identities, using art as a tool.

However, the work of this artistic society takes different forms. Firstly, Aravani operates both as a non-profit organisation and as a collective of artists who earn their living primarily through art. Its projects involve numerous communities, businesses, government institutions and related bodies in geographically diverse areas of India. The messages conveyed through these projects revolve around themes of freedom, acceptance and hope, recognising the importance of every meaningful connection.

The Aravani Art Project is also responsible for organising ‘In-house meetings’ which focus on collective decision-making, addressing challenges, setting goals, discussing ongoing projects and providing a safe space for community members to share their daily experiences and difficulties.

Aravani has undertaken many interesting projects, such as the CEEW – Council on Energy, Environment and Water (2022), initiated by CEEW, a non-profit think tank and policy institution based in New Delhi. In 2022 another project was carried out in a public school and was initiated by the Parinaam Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has been working with low-income urban communities in India since 2006.

Therefore, the aim of the Aravani Art Project goes beyond mere artistic expression; it seeks to convey messages of peace and inclusion through collaboration with external entities, allowing each individual to feel an integral part of the community.

On the cover photo, an Aravani’s Art Project murales from their website