Indo-Canadian activist Vivek Shraya pushes gender and creative boundaries

  • Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Hindustan Times, Toronto
  • Updated: Jul 03, 2016 10:38 IST
Transgender artist Vivek Shraya who will be a national grand marshal at the Toronto Pride parade this year. (Courtesy: Vivek Shraya)

Most people struggle with one medium of expression; Toronto-based Vivek Shraya, one of the most prominent faces of the Indo-Canadian LGBTQ community, pursues many.

Shraya is a published author of fiction and poetry, and even has an upcoming book for children, “The Boy and the Bindi”. There’s photography and films, not to forget music. Shraya was recently featured on the cover of NOW Toronto, with the blurb of being a person who “pushes gender and creative boundaries”.

Born in Edmonton to parents originally from Bengaluru, 35-year-old Shraya will be a national grand marshal at the Pride Toronto parade, is “a trans woman of colour” and, of course, a talented multimedia artist. Shraya said, “Creating gives me a sense of purpose and art is a powerful tool to instigate change.”

Among her most arresting projects is Trisha, photographs limned with text. Shraya said, “As I have been transitioning, it’s been strange to look at old photos of my mom and see the ways I have grown into a version of her. The idea of Trisha was born from this observation, where I recreated nine vintage photos of my mom but with me as the subject.

Vivek Shraya’s project Trisha, in which he recreates old photographs of his mother. (Courtesy: Vivek Shraya)

“I am fortunate to have many privileges and live in a bubble of support that I rely on. But on some level, every day I have to assert my identities and every day it’s challenging. My parents are supportive in their own way and I am grateful for this too,” Shraya said.

Along with her brother Shamik, she is also half of the duo Too Attached. They released the EP “Bronze” last year.

“My relationship with my brother is possibly my most complicated relationship but there is no shortage of love between us,” Shraya said of her sibling.

Shraya took her first book, “God Loves Hair”, to India in 2010. Of that experience, she said, “Living in Canada, it’s easy to buy into the idea that other countries are more homophobic and North America is more advanced in relation to LGBTQ rights and issues. But I was so moved by the kinds of queer organising and conversations I witnessed in India. As a foreigner, I am hesitant to over-romanticise too, but it was definitely an important experience.”

“As I have been transitioning, it’s been strange to look at old photos of my mom and see the ways I have grown into a version of her.” (Courtesy: Vivek Shraya)

Being a queer person from a minority group has its baggage, some of it unexpected, as Shraya said, “I think one of the biggest challenges of being brown and queer is navigating racism in queer communities.”

This year, Shraya transitioned in another way: “After a lifetime of being addressed by ‘he’ and ‘him,’ I wanted to honour my femininity via ‘she’ and ‘her’ pronouns.”

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