Vivek Shraya wears many hats, and she wears them all well. The Indian–origin transgender artist made all the right noises in the music industry by giving us alternative pop rock and electro pop records (and amassing several accolades along the way). Next stop, the literary world. With her first book God Loves Hair the Toronto-based artist dwelled on themes like gender and sexuality.
The 35-year-old became one of the strongest voices speaking for the LGBT community. Even the World Wide Web was in awe when she released a photo series, Trisha, in May this year, recreating her mother’s photographs while attired just like her in old pictures. We get right down to business with the artist and ask her about her latest picture book The Boy & the Bindi and how she came up with it. Excepts:
What was the aim with this book?
The Boy & the Bindi pushes against the whiteness of children’s picture books by featuring brown characters, South Asian aesthetics, and spirituality. It felt important that this book didn’t fall into a bullying narrative, like so many LGBT stories. Those are important, but it’s equally important to portray alternative responses to difference.
Was writing this book different from writing a book for adults?
This experience was not significantly different to my experience of working on my illustrated novel for adults, She of the Mountains. I think the biggest challenge was ensuring that the boy looked young enough. I worked closely with Rajni Perera, an incredibly talented visual artist from Sri Lanka who also lives in Toronto. I didn’t deliberately set out to write a trans narrative, though of course I am glad that this book can exist in this genre. My biggest concern was wanting to create a children’s book that featured brown characters.
After the Trisha series, have people caught in a sexual limbo reached out to you?
Trisha is a project that explores gender and not sexuality, but unfortunately the two often get conflated, not unlike how gender non-conformity gets conflated with ‘identity crisis’. What has been fascinating about Trisha is the responses it has had from people outside of the LGBTQ community. It’s an important reminder of the power of art to transcend boundaries.
Have any of your personal experiences influenced your writing?
In regards to the book specifically, I don’t think a boy or man wearing a bindi in India is as shocking or discomforting as it is in North America, where I stay.
Reach Out: vivekshraya.com