The project ‘Zoya’ is part of my PhD research at the Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts. This research focuses on transgenders in India, who are strongly discriminated due to prejudice, superstition and ignorance. The goal of my PhD is to visually describe this community through personal stories of their members that together counter perceptions of transgenders as a monolithic group.

One of the transgenders participating in the project is Zoya, a Muslim who runs her own madrasa (Islam school). Unlike most transgenders, Zoya is completely accepted by the men and women in her area, spending time with both groups. Because her story is so inspirational for the rest of the transgender community as well as for the rest of the population, I submitted these photos for the Biennial Grant.

The photographs I make and the stories I collect provide the basis for conducting workshops on gender sensitisation for children in schools, training centres and neighbourhoods to counter negative perceptions of the transgender community. During the workshops, the photographs serve as a conversation starter between layers of society that normally never interact. By using photographs of transgenders in their daily lives, students and transgenders are encouraged to talk about what unites them. The interconnected narrative generated through the open discussion of photographs in combination with the transgenders’ compelling stories in an educational context helps the students to overcome their deep-routed prejudices.

Winning the Biennial Grant would make it possible to strongly increase the number of people coming into contact with transgenders through photography and – in case of the workshops – in real life. The intended outcomes are

1. Organising a travelling photography exhibition in India and Belgium, and

2. Developing a workshop manual in combination with a teacher’s training program for schools.