GenderFluid & FluidForms: Parvathi Nayar writes about the power of collaborative projects 

Art and fashion come together in a unique collaborative project to sensitise people, and reflect on gender issues. By Parvathi Nayar

author_img Parvathi Nayar Published :  14th December 2018 12:30 PM   |   Published :   |  14th December 2018 12:30 PM


It's so nice to be allowed to enter and move around in an artwork,” remarked a couple of visitors at our newly completed installation in Kochi, titled GenderFluid: identity * material * space. “It feels like a collaboration with the artist,” they said.

It’s a nice moment at the architectural installation created by us, The Hashtag#Collective. For ‘collaboration’ is a word that we like. The visitors, like many in the past, find the collaborative-arts angle fascinating; they are curious about how the partnership works and how it all came together.

We walk and talk a little within GenderFluid’s grid of translucent silhouettes. Moving through, we see how male silhouettes contain female forms, and vice vesa — and experience many layers of different gender types and sorts stacked together.

People are still resistant to the idea of gender being not just biological, but also performative, changeable and trans/mutable. It is at such junctures that art can intervene to play a role. GenderFluid, I tell the couple, is a celebration of differences and inclusivity, something we created as a response to changing paradigms of gender in our society.

So who is this ‘we’, they ask, and why do ‘we’ create together. I guess a shared sensibility brought architects Biju Kuriakose, Abin Choudhuri and artists Saira Biju and myself together as The Hashtag#Collective. We felt that art could provide thoughtful ways of talking about the issues in our socio-cultural environment.

The individual members of The Hashtag#Collective also felt the deep need for generous creative exchanges, so rare in today’s cultural spheres. Coming together from time to time to create art projects that are greater than our individual strengths, such as GenderFluid, would be a way of achieving this as well.

Us and theyyam
The conversation halts as the visitors drift off to take seats for the performative fashion show, FluidForms. The Hashtag# Collective partnered with designer Neesha Amrish and her brand Aeshane to create GenderFluid and FluidForms. Clothed in Amrish’s signature block-printed ahimsa silk clothes, the trans-men, trans-women, male and female models of FluidForms bring to life our installation.

The GenderFluid installation

Art and fashion may seem to speak from opposite ends of the creative spectrum, but they share one important quality — both are of the moment, both talk about the edge of thinking of where we are at this point, in this time. Fashion is not just about clothing, it is about curating a statement of who you are.

Art is not just about painting or performing or sculpting, it is about speaking a certain deep truth. It is a beautiful evening to watch an art-fashion show, under a crescent moon, twinkling lights and trees. The air is awash with sounds of the flute and the Kerala drums, the tunes to which the performers weave in and out of our installation.

Continuing the collaborative partnerships, the performers — many of who are from Kerala-based NGO Dhwayah — have been choreographed by Sunil Menon of Chennai-based NGO Sahodharan. In the creation of the work, we are grateful to have used the expertise of many — such as the makeup artists who translated our desire to reference theyyam into beautiful face paintings.

Performers at FluidForms 

Beauty in broken threads
Right from the point where we started ideating about this work — following our interviews with trans-men and -women — we were sure that we need to communicate the specificities of their sense of identity, belonging and gender. 

The work needed to be thought-provoking but also a celebration of who they are. Dilip Narayan of OED Gallery offered us space for the installation when he heard of our concept. Presenting our installation during the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kochi seemed like the right time, when there is such a buzz in the city. When creativity is everywhere, such personal creative responses seemed fitting.

The installation and the show were governed by the idea of fluidity. For the narrative core of FluidForms that would tie together all the ideas, The Hashtag#Collective first looked for inspiration in the fabrics that Neesha Amrish uses to design her boldly styled clothes — ahimsa silk, created from the silk filaments that are fragmented when the silkworms break out to pursue their destiny. 

The silkworms are not killed in the production of ahimsa silk. Defying the conventional wisdom that the broken threads are not of value — fabrics of immense value and beauty are woven from them. The first segment of FluidForms was titled ‘Caterpillar’. The caterpillars are kinetic, patterned with cool patches and stripes. They are on the move, consuming — knowledge, information, facts, fiction. They shed skin, they discard old ideas, they moult, they reabsorb truths.

Face paint & makeup inspired by theyyam

‘Who you truly are’
Segment two was termed ‘Chrysalis’: A time of reflection of blending in, often in neutrals, browns, khakis, greens. ‘They’ do not to run away to hide, but to be in a safe space, to think, to assess  —  to just be… without getting hurt.

In the life of the potential trans- man or trans-woman, this is the moment to get in touch with the inner core of who they really are. A quiet time. The world around may not be inclusive, but the chrysalis protects and keeps them safe. A time of resting, but also shifting shape. It is a time of starting to readjust, of thinking through those magical words — metamorphosis, transformation, change.

Segment Three was titled ’Butterfly’. The performers glide like mysterious forms pressed against the translucent frames and silhouettes, blurring edges. The chrysalis opens and the imago emerges, the wings are moist, folded against his/her body, blinking at the sudden light, looking at the world. When blood pumps into the wings, they gradually unfold, stretch and discover that flying takes a lot of practice. 

A detail of the GenderFluid installation

However, they learn quickly; and there, before your eyes is that final metamorphosis into creatures of flamboyant truth and beauty. For ‘transformation’ in its essence is the act of becoming who you truly are. The show over, some visitors come up to chat with the collective and wide-ranging discussions ensued on the themes and trajectories of collaborative interactions.

The evening felt like a confirmation of the reasons that The Hashtag#Collective originally came together: because of that afore-mentioned belief in the role of artistic intervention to present, critique, and re-present our changing socio-cultural environments. With GenderFluid, we propose how the human race is richer and stronger for the diversities that exist within us.

GenderFluid is on at External Spaces, Gallery OED, Kochi, until March 29, 2019. Parvathi is also showing at the collateral group show Of Memories and Might, curated by Tanya Abraham, at Kashi Art Gallery, Fort Kochi.