My name is Ramya. I’m from Washermanpet. When I was younger, four men forcefully dragged me from the streets and sexually assaulted me. Two of them hit me with wooden rods. I cannot get over the incident; it haunts me every day.
My name is Parimala. I’m 68 years old. I live in Ernavoor. I make a living by begging for money at shops. I’ve been taking care of my brothers all these years. But they don’t love me. I feel bad. I wish they show me some affection. I sometimes wonder if I should take my life.
My name is Varsha. When I was walking by Chennai’s streets one night with a friend, a passing policeman suddenly took us into custody. He physically abused us. We told him we didn’t do anything wrong. He said that someone like us had stolen some money and that we were arrested on suspicion. But the next morning, he casually said that we could go. We were at the police station the whole night for no fault of ours.
These are some of the stories that transgender activist and artist Kalki Subramaniam and transwoman Sowndharya Gopi documented as part of their project #MeTooFiles. For over one year, Kalki, the founder of Sahodari Foundation Centre for Education, Arts and Media, and Sowndharya, travelled across Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka, and Kerala, documenting stories of pain and suppression of over 100 transwomen. “We got them to place a hand impression with paint on handmade paper. Once it dried up, we wrote their stories on it,” says Kalki. A selection of these works will feature in Shut Up, an art show to be held in the city.
“Apart from these, the show will have 10 of my paintings, acrylic and water colour works that transwomen did as a group, and pencil and pen sketches that transwomen did individually,” she adds. The idea is to provide “an artistic expression to the gender identity and sexual orientation of transgender people,” explains Kalki.
Kalki, who has been holding art workshops for transgender people for over two years, says that she sees art as something that heals. “Of course, selling our works also provides us a livelihood; but more than that, we are able to express our pain, tell our stories, and talk about certain experiences we’ve kept locked up in ourselves for years,” she adds.
“Many transgender people cannot write, and so Sowndharya and I wrote down their stories as they narrated them to us,” recalls Kalki.
Tales of strength
The word ‘painful’ doesn’t do justice to what the two of them felt when they worked on the project. “Many times, we would burst into tears,” she says. “But we had to stay strong for the transwomen who were opening up to us. We wanted to make this easy for them and didn’t want to further add to their sadness.” Kalki found that most transpeople were hurt by people from their own family and those that they trusted, simply because they were “being true to what they believed in”.
They wrote in Tamil, Malayalam, English, and Bengali. Kalki says that the project will continue for a few more years. “We can see how therapeutic the exercise is for transwomen. When they speak out, they feel healed,” she feels.
At the venue, one wall will have art work from the series; in the centre, Kalki’s painting of an angry transwoman will be put up. “She will have fiery eyes and will be seen gritting her teeth,” says Kalki.
There’s a term called beeli that’s prevalent in the trans community. It translates to ‘giving back’ or ‘fighting back’. The art exhibition, according to Kalki, is the summation of the transgender community’s beeli .
Art show Shut Up, is being inaugurated at 5.30 pm today, at British Council, 737, Anna Salai. It will be on till April 14. Entry is free. For details, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit sahodari.org.