Mumbai's gays paint walls to spread awareness about living with HIV

Dec 05, 2018, 11:05 IST | Hemal Ashar

Artists from Mumbai's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community took to the paintbrush, for the initiative 'Queering the City #SabNormal'

Mumbai's gays paint walls to spread awareness about living with HIV
The artists with the completed art work

The wall outside Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS), Wadala, became a medium for awareness on Tuesday afternoon, when artists from Mumbai's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community took to the paintbrush, for the initiative 'Queering the City #SabNormal'. In this wall-painting project, the public space was used to paint messages about AIDS awareness, living through an HIV-positive diagnosis and battling stigma around the disease.

Koninika Roy, advocacy manager of Mumbai's LGBT non-profit Humsafar Trust, said, "Since 1988, December 1 has been recognized as World AIDS Day, a day of mourning for those who have lost lives because of HIV. We have a number of organizations like Yaariyan, MDACS and Aravani Art Project, besides others, collaborating for this wall art project. On Monday, the Sion Hospital wall, near gate no. 7, was painted. On Tuesday, it is Wadala."

Stifling silence
Dhruv Ambegaokar, who teaches anatomy at the Sion Hospital, paused mid-painting and said, "I was happy to see my workplace wall become a canvas for creativity and compassion when I returned from a trip. Today, I am painting a wall at Wadala. The hardest part about being HIV-positive is the paucity of people to confide in. Often, it is one, or none. Those afflicted are stifled in their own silence," he said.

Transwoman Deepa next to the wall art at Wadala
Transwoman Deepa next to the wall art at Wadala

As we spoke, schoolgirls passed by the wall, stopping to read the messages before being hurried on by a teacher. Transwoman Deepa, who was painting, said, "This canvas is a conversation starter. People usually avoid us or try to slink away as soon as they see us. This project brings us in the mainstream because people are curious when they see us paint."

Transwomen Ayesha and Kajal (all of whom go by their first names) said, "It also provides us with a small income. We are still struggling when it comes to jobs. Prospective employers do not tell us directly, but they couch their words in excuses for not employing us."

City becomes canvas
As the morning wore on to afternoon, a passerby asked those painting the wall who exactly was their target audience. When he was told it was the general public, he insisted that they be more specific. "Arguments are also interaction," laughed the painters as Poornima Sukumar, founder of the Aravani Art Project, said, "with this, the community, especially the transwomen, are claiming public spaces."

Children stop to read a message on the art wall
Children stop to read a message on the art wall

Sandeep Mane and Deepak Tripathi of Humsafar said the bright colour palette was "deliberate and eye-catching. When the city becomes your canvas, you know you have a large audience – some may be receptive to your message, others not so, but subtly at least there is awareness, and for some, introspection too."

Into the mainstream
"The project will also help bring AIDS into the mainstream," said Dr Shrikala Acharya, additional project director, MDACS. "It will, hopefully, be one more step towards being less judgemental about the patient, helping them focus on treatment, and lessening the stigma instead of talking about 'how' and 'why' he got AIDS. The sufferer cannot speak up because he is made to feel he has done something wrong." The artwork at Wadala signified just that - it was about about breaking silences, bringing down those walls and for the community to not be afraid of taking the first step, which is to get tested and to know one's status.

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