Kolkata's walls have become alive with street art over the past few years, and you can find a wide range of exciting pieces here that showcase everything, from references to popular culture to social criticism. The most recent addition to Kolkata's public canvas is an eye-catching 80-foot-tall artwork on EM Bypass.
It was made by a group of trans persons led by queer artist Nandini Moitra of Fearless Collective and features images of trans men (Fearless Collective produces public art interventions with women and underrepresented populations all around the world. You can read more about Fearless Collective and their work in our interview with artist Shilo Shiv Suleman here).
Moitra is an illustrator and activist based out of Kolkata. Their work is often informed by intersectional feminism and their community. "I try to reflect the interiority of queerness in our geographical context, through my art," they say. "I am also fascinated with mythology and reimagine these stories holding space for women and queer folks As an illustrator, my style is maximalist, with a love for bright colours and lush backgrounds."
Moitra has worked with various social justice organisations around the world including Frida Fund, UAF Africa, and Oxfam, and exhibited at Ort Gallery in Birmingham, Autograph ABP in London, and guest lectured at University of Wolverhampton. They are currently a part of the ambassador programme for Fearless. "I was invited to be a part of their Ambassador programme in 2021, and a residency programme happened in December 2022," they say. "It was a deeply transformative experience. I had the honour of working with some incredible artists from across South Asia, from whom I learnt a lot. Shilo Shiv Suleman was mentoring us during the residency and learning from her was a rewarding experience."
Talking about the recent mural they have created in Kolkata highlighting trans men, Moitra says, "All the ambassadors were asked to work with a community they resonate with their own city. As a non-binary trans person myself, I decided to work with the transmasculine community."
The mural they have worked on in Kolkata challenges the prevailing narratives and depictions of trans people with a reminder that trans lives matter.
The artwork depicts actual community members going about their daily lives, with one combing the hair of another and another holding an infant. The goal is to raise awareness of the trans community among Kolkata residents through public art.
The mural is painted on the outside of the Offbeat CCU building on the EM Bypass in Topsia. The space is a centre for entertainment, events, workshops, fitness, and lifestyle, and is known to be an inclusive environment for people of various backgrounds.
The creation of the mural celebrating gender fluidity was an incredibly difficult process, they say. For one, finding a wall in the city was very hard. "There was a lot of transphobia and people denied giving their walls to paint the moment they realised I would be painting trans folks. It took me two months to find a wall. Topcat CCU was graceful enough to give us their wall and also support us through the process."
Then there was the size of the project. It is an 80-feet tall wall. "Initially I was scared, but got over it eventually," says Moitra. "It was a team of four people and all of us were from the community. We worked extremely hard to turn this dream into a reality. Wree, my production manager and artist assistant helped me through everything. She also freehanded the lettering on the mural. We wanted the mural to be an example of trans audacity. Both Sabika and Tehani from Fearless had also come to support our team."
Before the mural, a workshop was held with eight transmen across the city. "Through this, we spoke about mapping masculinity through a trans lens." explains Moitra. "The cis lens of masculinity is limited in its imagination. We spoke about transmasculinity encompassing ideas of softness, care, and community." Moitra says that the men themselves came up with the image. The idea behind it was also about how taking up space in the city as trans folks can be invisiblising. And about the relationship they have with the city.