Poornima Sukumar

Social Justice

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Quick Facts

  • Creating safe spaces for people of every gender

  • Helping transgenders assimilate into society through gainful employment

  • Practicing inclusivity through art and mural work

Employers don’t have the patience to integrate them. When transgender people start working, it is difficult for them to adjust. [Through the Aravani Art project] we will try to view Bengaluru from their eyes.

Public Art to Amplify Transgender Voices


Poornima Sukumar, an artist based in Bengaluru, works with transgender people and involves them in public art projects. Art, she says, is not only therapeutic but also a means to highlight their problems and concerns. “I didn’t find much solace in working by myself. But when I began sharing my work with others, that changed,” she says.


Poornima was always curious to know how people aloof from society survive, and that is how the sexual minorities drew her attention. She began collaborating with them with an open mind. “This helped me gain a perspective. I was working on a film with them and the research took me closer to them,” she says. In the process, she also got transgender people to define themselves in artistic terms. “They had felt reclusive going it alone, but they didn’t mind being accompanied. They always feared somebody would attack them,” she recalls.


Their response, she reckons, is triggered by what they see day in and day out. “If they don’t behave in a particular way, they are bullied,” she says. Social prejudice plays a big role in excluding them from the mainstream. It is important for transgender people to be around people who are accepting of them. It is all right if women and transgender people go out together, she says. As things stand, transgender people are confined to spaces exclusive to them, and jobs are hard to come by. “Employers don’t have the patience to integrate them. When transgender people start working, it is difficult for them to adjust,” she says.


Limited education is a major factor that hinders integration at the workplace. The minimum qualification for any job is Class 10 and most transgender people haven’t crossed that stage. Poornima has made elaborate plans for the new year.


Her Aravani Art Project will showcase stories from the Indian myths about the transgender community. The project aims to embrace the transgender community by creating consciousness, well-being through art, awareness and social participation.


“The project advocates the idea of reclaiming spaces in society by creating large wall mural projects to raise awareness and to create a voice for the community. We are now exploring ways to engage the community to come out in the public spaces and feel confident and safe, with a sense of belonging,” says Poornima.


“We have received a grant from the India Foundation for the Arts, and that allows us public intervention in Bengaluru. The public can engage with transgender people to understand their perspectives and outlook to life,” she adds. Poornima Sukumar has made a difference in the lives of many transgenders who say that she has given them a reason to hope again. The idea also is to let the society understand how transgender people live. “We will try to view Bengaluru from their eyes,” she says.


The transgenders who are currently employed with Poornima have high regard for her. Shanthi Muniswamy recalls that she was depressed for over two years because she didn’t have enough resources to get sex reassignment surgery done. “This surgery is important for a transgender. Poornima helped me with it and also provided me a job in her art company. I have always had a passion for art and drawing. After joining Aravani Project, I could put my talent to good use,” explains Shanthi.


She says that she has also started sharing her experience with the others to convince them to join the project. “Earlier, I used to earn a living through sex-work and begging. Getting a job at Aravani has given me self-respect and dignity,” she adds.


Those who have known Poornima for a while like art historian Suresh Jayaram, say she has dared to move out. “What she does is no longer confined to gallery spaces; it reacts and interacts with people on the street,” he says. Her work is significant, he says, because it doesn’t just paint beautiful images but also questions our conscience about who we ignore. “She has moved away from conventional art and art education and has carved a path for herself,” he says.

Read next: A Dramatic Tale of Resilience and Identity

Nina C George