A recently built underpass inside Ecoworld, a tech park in Bengaluru's Bellandur area that encloses public roads, has been transformed into an artwork that celebrates diverse gender identities. Vibrant portraits, accentuated by a play of colours, line the walls of this strictly functional public space.
The artwork aims to create awareness about gender inclusivity by the Indian public art collective Aravani Art Project in collaboration with real estate developer Brookfield Properties. The north underpass of the Central Avenue Project, designed to remove conflict from merging and crossing traffic, is now a visual delight that brings to life the concept of Naavu Iddhivi, a Kannada term meaning 'We Exist'.
The artwork, painted by 13 transgender artists associated with the Aravani Art Project, founded by transgender activist Poornima Sukumar and run by transgender and cisgender women, includes paintings of 16 distinct personas, each based on a real story and experience, portraying unique identities and challenges for people who defy the binaries of gender.
The colourful paintings encapsulate a sense of hope, faith, and strength. For instance, in one of the paintings, Kumari, a transwoman, can be seen smiling as she looks at the possibilities ahead. Thara, a gender non-conforming person, is shown in deep introspection, while Purushi’s determined face exudes defiance and self-expression. There is also Akka, a regal transwoman, adorned in gold and surrounded by pure white lotuses, who showcases strength and grace. Then there's Alex, depicted wearing a nose ring and earring, who embraces the fluidity of gender.
Talking about the new murals, Poornima Sukumar, founder of The Aravani Art Project, said it represents their ‘Better Together’ philosophy that advocates inclusivity and equality for all genders.
"The small anecdotes within each portrait serve as windows into the diverse lives and experiences of individuals. Better Together encapsulates the essence of unity, transcending gender boundaries and emphasizing the beauty that emerges when we come together as one,” Sukumar added.
This year, the Aravani Art Project completes eight years of using art as a powerful tool for social change. They have come a long way from their first project in January 2016 at Bengaluru’s crowded KR Market where they painted one of the walls at the office of Sangama, a non-governmental organisation.
“We painted our first mural as an experiment to see how people in the city would react if people from transgender community occupied space,” Sukumar said at the inauguration of the new artwork.
From government-sanctioned murals for the beautification of the walls of the city to using murals to voice socio-cultural issues, public art has made its presence felt in Bengaluru in recent years. From wall art to installations, artists have showcased diverse opinions through art all around the city.
For instance, in 2021, Bengaluru artists created street murals as part of a movement for sustainable mobility. The Malleshwaram Hogana campaign focused on reducing traffic and getting more people to walk while enjoying the beautiful murals, created by artist collective Geechu Galu, in the Malleshwaram area of Bengaluru.
The Aravani Art Project's public artwork has adorned many city walls. From cafes to universities such as Azim Premji University, one can easily find a mural painted by them.