POLITICS
13/10/2019 8:26 AM IST | Updated 13/10/2019 8:26 AM IST

Lawyer, Nurse, Cop: This Artist Shows India's Trans Community As They Want To Be Seen

Sandeep TK asked his friends from Kerala's marginalised Trans community to imagine an alternative life. The results are evocative and eye-opening.

Sandeep TK
Declaration Of Empathy is an art project by artist Sandeep TK

Siddharth is a trans-man, now living together with his girlfriend. As a trans-man it is hard for him to find a place to stay. This photograph in uniform, reflects Siddharth’s belief that one has to to be in a position of power to make changes one wants to see in the world.

On 15th January 2014, at a public meeting, commemorating Martin Luther King
Jr’s birth anniversary, African Americans signed The Declaration of Empathy,
which called for an end to the oppression of Dalits in India.

Can a marginalised individual reach out and empathise with the cause and
struggle of another minority?

Yes. As a queer who grew up in Kerala, I know the hardships and insecurities one can suffer as a sexual outsider.

A few years ago, I met Mia Sivaram and her protégé Annamma, and I was
motivated to embark on this photographic project. Though the focus is on my
friends, I tell multiple stories with my camera — about a sexual minority, that is
discriminated against, living on the margins of society, yet celebrating their
lives, their gender choices and asserting their right to be themselves.

These conversations culminated into a photo-exhibition which reflect lives full of
pathos, an admirable zest for life, and with a quirky, yet dark sense of humour. In these images, my friends posed for my camera in attire that reflected alternative lives that they could have led. The captions, printed in italics directly below each image, offer an insight into why they chose to project a particular self for the camera.

This photo-exhibition, titled Declaration of Empathy, was first showed at Gender Bender Festival — a joint project of Sandbox Collective and the Goethe-Institut, Bengaluru. The exhibition later travelled to the Futures of Sexuality Festival, Tiffa Working Studios, Pune.

Sandeep TK
Declaration Of Empathy is an art project by artist Sandeep TK

Abhi, or Annamma, fell in love with a man when he was 17, and decided to live with him. This was the same that he came out to his family, who were hostile and unaccepting.

He moved out of his house, after few weeks he came back to his family. His grandmother’s wish was for him to become a priest in the Church. He joined a seminary and stayed in the church, but decided to stop to become Annamma.

This photograph is taken near the tomb of his grandmother.

Sandeep TK
Declaration Of Empathy is an art project by artist Sandeep TK

Miya Sivaram is the second child to her parents. Being a boy, she had the responsibility of taking care of the family. She started working in different places to help the family and contributed for her sister’s marriage.

After her sister’s marriage she disappeared from Kerala to Tamil Nadu, to be truthful to her feeling of becoming a woman and to find a man who could love her. At the age of 23, she had a sex change operation to became Miya.

“I wish I was a lawyer after experiencing the discrimination and bullying I faced in my life.” Said Miya

Sandeep TK
Declaration Of Empathy is an art project by artist Sandeep TK

Nandini’s desire is to walk with her head held high in front of her teachers and classmates who ridiculed her for her feminine behaviour. Those incidents made her stronger, she said. Nandini is a talented dancer and she is waiting to make it big.

Sandeep TK
Declaration Of Empathy is an art project by artist Sandeep TK

Gauri said teaching is the most respected profession. Teachers play a big part in the society and she was lucky to have joined a profession she had always admired. But after the surgery she could not continue working as a teacher

Sandeep TK
Declaration Of Empathy is an art project by artist Sandeep TK

When Remya was young, she used to admire the caring nurses in the
hospitals she visited as a child. They always gave her a loving smile even as they held out injections. Remya thought that one day she could be a sister and cure people’s illness with an injection and a loving smile.

Sandeep TK
Declaration Of Empathy is an art project by artist Sandeep TK

Diya loves the colourful costumes worn by Bharatanatyam dancers. “Dancers are beautiful,” she says.

Sandeep TK
Declaration Of Empathy is an art project by artist Sandeep TK

Aneesha wants to shine on the silver screen. She says she is often faced with ignorance where ever she goes. She wants to be as recognised as a cine artist that will bring her respect and an economic stability.

Sandeep TK is an artist from Thalassery, Kerala, who now lives and works in Bengaluru. His practice involves documentary photography and fictional narratives that involve himself. You can see more of his work here.