Trans-affirmations is a textile installation that reclaims public spaces through trans-positive affirmations, demands, needs, dreams, wishes, desires… The series is painted with acrylic paint on long, colourful stretches of silk which are, in fact, saris that belonged to my mother and that she gifted me over the past couple of years. This offering of femme clothing, from mother to child, was a moment of reconciliation in our relationship: after three decades of gender policing that erased my trans identity and invalidated my femininity, my mother was finally welcoming me into the intimate folds of womanhood, femme lineage and kinship.
Inheriting these garments from my mother opened trajectories of return for me— a gendered, embodied, spiritual and geographical return, from an exile of 15 years: I could finally reclaim a space for myself within my family, and I could contest the island as a site of belonging. I gained my rightful place within the threads of femme intimacies, care, solidarity and divination that are interweaved amongst sisters, daughters, aunties, cousins…. The transmission of this silk garment, from one generation to another, also signalled the beginning of a process of inter-generational forgiveness, accountability, acceptance and love, in an intimate language that prevails beyond words.
In Trans-affirmations, I paint trans-positive affirmations on five of my mother’s saris. The five pieces act individually and collectively as textile installations that reclaim public and institutional spaces. Trans people, particularly trans women of colour, have systematically been erased from history, movements, and are disproportionately marginalized and pushed out of the public sphere; Trans-affirmations occupy public spaces, in bold colours and succinct messaging. The affirmations are intentionally kept to the point: in contemporary contexts where the mainstream media sets the agenda for “trans tipping points,” public discussions are dominated by privileged, cisgender people and clouded with unnecessary debates, when the message can articulated in just these words:
PROTECT TRANS YOUTH.
HONOUR TRANS ELDERS.
CELEBRATE TRANS HISTORY.
REMEMBER TRANS POWER.
LOVE FOR TRANS WOMEN OF COLOUR.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are those of my mother draping her sari: I remember being fascinated by the skill and grace with which she deftly pleated the silk around her body. I would watch her, everyday, as she got ready for work; I enjoyed this quotidian ritual, this moment of intimacy that we shared, and that we lost as I grew older and was forced to conform to masculine gender norms. The sari represents my earliest enchantment with femininity. Trans-affirmations merges the personal into the political: I use my mother’s saris as the aesthetic and transgressive foundation to make social, cultural and civic demands that occupy the public sphere. The textile installation occupies spaces of tenderness wrapped into urgency, at once personal and political— the space of the intervention enunciates a third space that is necessary for the emancipation and affirmation of marginalized voices: personal healing is as imperative as revolutionary social change, and both are dependent on each other.