How An Artist Has Used The Canvas To Break Stereotypes Around LGBTQ Indians

Posted by Reshma Thomas in Cake, Culture-Vulture, LGBTQ
January 30, 2017

Way back in 2006, while waiting at the Chennai Central railway station, I noticed a man getting up from his seat as a lady sat down next to him. The lady, a transgender woman, seemed visibly upset at the man’s reaction. When she de-boarded the train, I struck up a conversation with her and soon found myself following her to one of the slums in the city. There, I met several people from the LGBTQ community, and each of them had a distressing story to share – tales of abuse, neglect, depression and loneliness.

‘Search For Happiness’ reflects the LGBTQ community’s longing. Image courtesy of Reshma Thomas.

I knew instantly that I wanted to help convey their experiences to the wider world, and as an ally, I wanted to create awareness around LGBTQ issues. I chose to do this work through art.

My first painting exhibition, “A for Art”, was in support of the LGBTQ community and had 200 canvases depicting their struggles and trauma. My work was noticed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the show was taken to Calicut under the banner of ‘Identity.’

Referring to the achievements of LGBTQ people is the painting under the title ‘Milestone.’ Another painting called ‘Migration’ expresses how people in the community are forced to move to places where they are more likely to be accepted.

I want each person who looks at these paintings to have their own interpretation, which is why they only have titles and no detailed descriptions. With my art, I want stereotypes broken.

The long wait for the LGBTQ community’s civil rights is depicted in ‘The Wait’. Image courtesy of Reshma Thomas.

Each painting evokes the thought process that everybody is human, everyone is equal, that transgender and queer people are as normal as us. The message I want to spread is “accept people with their differences“.

My interest in LGBTQ issues grew from my observation that queer people were treated differently. While pursuing my PhD on the topic of transgender identity and public policy, I began interacting more and more with the community. It was from this that my art grew. As a self-taught artist, my work is about exploring and experimenting – trying different colours, media and textures, and using exotic tools, from sea shells and sand to kitchen accessories.

People ask if I have had a difficult experience working with the LGBTQ community. Because I have been so open in my support, there were times when people refused to talk to me. Some even asked my parents if I were a trans woman too, as if being trans was an insult or disease.

‘Web of Life’. Image courtesy of Reshma Thomas.

I recall another incident when a trans woman called me for help in the middle of the night, and when I reached her, she was drenched in blood. Someone had attacked her brutally and when we took her to the hospital, the doctors refused to take her in. It was very disheartening.

From these instances, I can safely say that my challenge has not been in working with this community but in convincing society to be respectful of them.

As an artist, through my art, I try to create a change in our social outlook. As someone interested in humanity, I strive to do it with sensitivity; I try to expose our social life through my work. My art not only speaks for myself but for people who are silenced.