The Sahodari Foundation, based in Tamil Nadu, recently showcased the works of about 25 transgender artists.

Kalki Subramaniam standing with a portrait of Frida KahloTNM
Features ART Tuesday, February 09, 2021 - 17:57

"To write poetry, you need to learn a language. To create art, you don’t,” said Kalki Subramaniam, a transgender artist and activist who was showcasing her work at the Bangalore International Centre in Bengaluru over the weekend. Kalki was among those who laid the footing for the Sahodari Foundation, based in Tamil Nadu, which provides support and counselling for trans women. The foundation was hosting an exhibition titled ‘We are not the Others’, which took place from February 5-7. The exhibition showcased the works of around 25 artists from the community. Ranging from pop art to surrealist paintings, the exhibition portrayed a large store of talent.

The paintings that were on display were full of life and were a celebration of nature and the vibrancy of the transgender community. In a conversation with TNM, Kalki spoke about the artists’ motivation behind their creations, how identity is portrayed through art and popular Korean boy band BTS. 

“Art is not just a hobby for us, many in the community create art to earn some extra money. We also have the talent to create and I want the world to see that creativity,” said Kalki. She added that several transgender persons are talented and vibrant, but seldom get opportunities to highlight their talents.

A vibrant painting on display

Art is a safe space for many in the community, including Kalki. She said that she was 12 years old when she first started showing an interest in it. “I used to bunk school, go to nearby forests or parks, sit in a corner, creating art. I always knew I wanted to be a woman with long hair and drew myself as one. I visualised my future through art,” she added.

Kalki believes that the visibility of the artistic talent within the transgender community will motivate them to pursue it further. “Many in the transgender community are mainly identified as beggars and sex workers. If their art reaches the masses, if it sells, they can be motivated to pursue art as a career instead. The acceptance of their creativity will give them an opportunity to turn their lives around, and it yields that power,” she shared.  

The exhibition at the Bangalore International Centre

Pointing at a painting of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Kalki expressed that she has been an inspiration for many in the transgender community. Kahlo is considered one of the greatest artists in modern times, and did not let herself be defined by her disability. This inspires many from the community to not let one aspect of their life govern who they are or decide their identity, according to Kalki.

“Frida Kahlo was a bisexual woman, an icon for the LGBTQIA+ community. Apart from being a person with disabilities, she also could not bear any children. We, trans women, cannot bear children either but that does not make us less of a woman. Our identities are created by us, and, like Kahlo, we can be chefs, painters, dancers and much more. Being a trans woman is not our only identity,” she pointed out.

One painting that stood out prominently in the room was a pop-art portrait of Kim Taehyung, a popular Korean singer and member of the boy band BTS.  

“BTS, the band has always promoted love. They have shown their support for the LGBTQIA+ community and have also constantly advocated gender fluidity through their music and through just being themselves. They have constantly strived to promote inclusivity and I thought I had to pay a tribute to them,” Kalki said. She added that she feels indebted to people who send love to her community, and the paintings on display were their way of giving some love back.

Kalki Subramaniam with her fans

Kalki noted that the Indian society is changing, from being cold and aloof to accepting of the community, but there are still times when they face discrimination. The community remains hopeful that they will be able to move away from stereotypes associated with them. The Sahodari Foundation sells their artwork online, which you can find here

Through the sale of the paintings displayed in the exhibitions, Sahodari Foundation aims to empower and educate young and vulnerable transgender persons. The exhibition was done in collaboration with the Inner Wheel Club.

“We are not just 'others' as mentioned in some government identity applications. We are more. We claim our space,” the foundation mentioned in an Instagram post, about the title of their exhibition ‘We are not the Others’.

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