‘InsideOut’ Is Helping LGBTQ Artists Kickstart Their Art Careers, Here’s How You Can Help

“Art is not a mirror to reflect reality,” wrote radical German theatre artist Bertolt Brecht, “but a hammer with which to shape it.”  His view is clearly shared by InsideOut Delhi, a non-profit volunteer LGBTQ+ group, which in association with the NAZ Foundation curates an art competition (now in its second year) with two very clear objectives: to educate broader society about the experience of being LGBTQ+ in India, and to expose selected LGBTQ+ artists to a wider audience of buyers, galleries and agents.

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In a country where it was illegal to be LGBTQ+ until September 6, 2018, the competition challenges artists who are residents of India and identify as LGBTQ to not just think through the issues, but also explore how they can use the visual arts to overcome obstacles and prejudices creatively.

The 2018 theme “Refracted Lives” asked LGBTQ+ artists to address how their lives bent in response to societal forces such as religion, family, or the law.

The theme this year; “Awakening,” is a more upbeat one, signifying an increase in confidence and optimism on their journey of self-reflection. This year, 76 artists entered the competition.

LGBT artists such as Amir Rabbani from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, who have really worked against the odds to be who they are, says the competition is a significant outlet. “Coming from a Muslim background,” Rabbani says, “I restricted myself, to not show my paintings to my art teachers or classmates. When I heard about the InsideOut Project, I felt it was a great platform to show my true inner self which was till now firmly in my closet”.

All the submitted artwork is judged by a distinguished panel of art critics, collectors, buyers, curators and writers. Chosen finalists get to exhibit, for a fortnight at the LaLiT Hotel’s gallery in New Delhi, during Pride Month in November. Winners of first, second and third place, as well as a People’s Choice Award, are announced at a gala reception at the gallery. They stand to gain cash prizes, sponsored by prominent LGBTQ businesses and individuals.

As the head of the jury panel, Manoj Bhramar explains, “This is a juried art show, one at which exhibiting artists have to be found worthy of entry by presenting their work to a panel of jurors. The process is intended to raise the quality of the show and therefore attract patrons. The higher the reputation and standard an event or show has, the more good artists and ensuing art lovers it will attract.”

Exhibiting artists get the opportunity to sell their artwork or be commissioned further. The 2018 People’s Choice winner Aditya Raj says being recognized by the competition was a game-changer. “It is very difficult for queer artists in India to go to curators and galleries and get this kind of support.”

Having their work seen by thousands of local and international visitors encouraged many of last year’s finalists to appreciate the impact of their creativity on the larger community. “I noticed a lot changed within myself, since taking part in the competition,” says Adil Kalim (3rd place winner 2018). “It really encouraged me and pushed me to develop faith and confidence in my identity and work. Now I can take my battles to society by faithfully and truthfully conveying my message through my craft.”

“Through the prism of mythology, which often many folks use as a powerful tool – where ‘god’ cannot be challenged—I managed to spread the message amongst my friends’ circles. They had no idea this androgynous form of Lord Shiva was in fact ‘queer’. I think the more we do with our art through this platform; there will be an awakening,” adds sculptor Nishant Khoiya, whose installation Ardhanarisvara depicted the androgynous form of divine power.

In February 2019, last year’s finalists also had an opportunity to participate in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. “Through the cultural exchange in Australia, we met a cross-section of artists and interested collectors, like Deborah Kelly, C Hardy Moore, William Yang,” says Baishali Chetia, a 2018 finalist. “From them, we learnt a lot about how to use visual language and LGBT activism.”

Another 2018 finalist, Saba, excitedly tells us, “The environment kind of encouraged me. It is one thing to paint whatever is going on in your head, and it is a different level to see someone appreciate it enough to take it home. It’s not about the money; it is more about the person who understood and connected with it and put it in a place where they want it for themselves.”

After taking the exhibit to Australia last year, this year the organizers hope to take the show from Delhi to other cities in India. InsideOut Delhi has kickstarted a fundraising campaign, both offline and online, asking the larger LGBTQ community and allies to contribute towards sending the selected artwork and artists to more cities so that they can get a wider national berth.

Speaking on behalf of the 2019 jury panel, Bhramar adds, I hope that the work we gather this year illustrates bravery and vulnerability, highlighting both our diversity and our unity, our deep sorrows and our hopeless optimism. Artist and art both share a hope that will provide the future generations dignity of life and equal rights.”

There is barely a week left to contribute and allow these LGBTQ artists a chance to travel. Visit and contribute here.

InsideOut is a volunteer LGBTQ+ organization of Indian and expat professionals and diplomats based in New Delhi, supporting health, human rights and the arts through cultural exchange. For further information, email InsideOutDelhi@gmail.com.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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