St+art Kolkata 2018

Located in Kolkata, Sonagachi is India’s largest red-light district, with close to 11,000 sex workers inhabiting numerous of its multi-story brothels. In 2018, the area became the setting for our first street art festival in the city.

Sonagachi is an area that is often mentioned in terms of being a blight on Kolkata’s map - the city that’s commonly referred to as the “cultural capital of India”. Its residents continue to be stigmatised and discriminated against, not being accorded any space in Kolkata’s ‘bhadrapaara’.

For St+art Kolkata 2018, we collaborated with a local NGO - the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) in the area, along with the art collective ‘Aravani Art Project’ and French artist Chifumi to contribute in breaking the stigma associated with the region through art interventions.

To humanize Sonagachi’s inhabitants in the city’s collective imagination, Chifumi and the Aravani Art Project worked under the theme of “The Unseen”, creating artwork on the walls of the office of the DMSC. Formally organised in 1995, the DMSC has advocated for the sex workers’ rights to better sexual health since its inception.

The Aravani Art project - an art collective based out of Bangalore, working on creating safe spaces for the transgender community through public art interventions, conceptualised and executed the first mural using a participatory approach. It was completed over a period of 2 weeks, and several locals and members from the transgender communitiy contributed to the artwork.

Their artwork sought to act as an archetypal representation of transgenders and sex workers, putting forward a message of empowerment. Giving light to marginalised communities, alongside regenerating the building of the Durbar Committee, the mural’s protagonist conveys that they have the right to be respected despite their work, because they are not what they do but who they are.

French artist Chifumi’s piece, on another wall of the building, contributed to the theme of the festival by drawing attention to the transgender community. His piece created the clap unique to the community in vibrant colours on the walls of the DMSC office.

In his characteristic way of communicating universally without language and instead with hand gestures, Chifumi drew the clap that is unique to the transgender community in India on one the DMSC’s walls.

Chifumi first observed the clap upon his maiden visit to India, and decided to incorporate it in his piece to bring attention to the ‘Unseen of Kolkata’. An essential mode of communication for transgenders from all over India, the clap transcends the bounds of language.

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