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Coming Out Of Labels Into Reality: The ‘Intimate Etre’ Exhibition

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If there were a checklist for a woman in her 40s (and there is), Nidhi would have checked all the boxes. The Bangalore-based artist and muralist had been married for over 25 years, and had two kids, whom she would often drive to school in her car.

She was scared when she decided to tell her family one day that she wanted to get a divorce.

“You have everything you need… why would you destroy everything?”

It was easy for her to answer the questions, but difficult to make them understand. The “Intimate Etre photo exhibition, which features Nidhi, along with nine other individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community, is possibly an attempt to spell out these answers for society. 

Photography is my life! I have grown closer and closer to it, intimate, till one day it went under my skin and has stayed there ever since, gushing through my veins, framing framing and framing,” says Magali on her love for the medium. Image source:

Instead of putting labels, we have to see people as ordinary human beings leading their lives,” says Magali Couffon, a Bangalore-based French photographer who considers photography a medium that gives voice to people who are marginalised or not given equal space to speak up. 

This is why I chose to photograph people from the community at their homes under natural lighting, as they were going about their day (Intimate Etre means ‘to be’ in French), instead of asking them to put on any make-up or look extravagant,” she adds. “This makes the photographs a little intrusive, while also not intrusive at the same time,” says Couffon. 

The exhibition was inaugurated on 24th February, 2020, at the Beyond&More showroom at Prabhadevi (Mumbai) and is open till April 10, 2020. The exhibition features life-size vertical portraits of 10 individuals — who identify as gay, lesbian, cross-dresser, transgender and bisexual

While many people were enthusiastic about the idea of getting photographed for the series, she says, quite a few of them had to refuse because they hadn’t yet come out to their family and friends. But many who had, and had agreed for the shoot, were excited to show their portraits to their family when they were exhibited for the first time at the DDIR Architecture Studio in Bangalore, in December 2019. “They were super happy and even clicked pictures of their children and family in front of their portraits,” smiles Couffon. 

A portrait from the exhibition. Image has been provided by the photographer.

It turned out to be really good,” says Nidhi. “Everyone at the gallery was very kind and said how it was very brave of all of us to participate in such a series,” Nidhi recalls. “But I was very nervous initially,” she laughs. “I was in a saree at the exhibition, but I am wearing camouflaged​ shorts in my portrait. Magali had come in the morning, right after I had dropped my kids to school. She asked me not to change my clothes and instead, just go about my day as I usually do,” she says. 

I was very conscious of the good and bad side of my face initially, and was even grinning in a few. But I gave in to Magali’s process later; the picture that finally made it to the series is one where I had not posed and was working in the house,” she says. 

The idea of the photo exhibition is to work towards achieving a society that is more accepting and tolerant towards human beings as they are; because no matter how you dress or what your social background is, at the end, we all are human beings,” says Couffon. 

A portrait from the exhibition. Image has been provided by the photographer.

The photographer — who made India her home 25 years ago — believes in collaborating with people who are willing to fight labels, and has previously worked with NGOs and festivals such as Koovagam Transgender Festival and Jogappa Festival in Bijapur. 

Her collaboration with Beyond&More for the exhibition is their first though. “B&M curates spaces, and art is intertwined with spaces. I loved the subject of individuality in Magali’s work and decided to bring the exhibit to Mumbai,” says Sanjay Pareek, founder and director, Beyond&More. He adds, “Emerging artists need a platform to showcase their talent. We are happy to promote different art styles, especially those for a cause?”  

Even as Nidhi continues to live with her partner of over four years and her kids, hers is only one of the stories that “Intimate Etre” has chronicled. There are so many more stories of finding an authentic self and staying true to it, as Nidhi puts it, that need to be set forth, that Couffon calls the series a project in the making, which will culminate into a book over the years.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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