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Trisha by Vivek Shraya
Photography Vivek Shraya

The genderqueer artist recreating her mother’s old photos

‘This project felt like a way to honour my mother, but also, the daughter she never wanted, or rather, the daughter she wasn’t allowed to want’

Vivek Shraya’s mother prayed to god for sons, rooted in her fear of the misogyny and worldly weight she faced herself imposing on any future daughters. She got her wish, and had two sons. Shraya’s project Trisha documents her personal transition by recreating old photos of her mother. “This project felt like a way to honour my mother, but also, the daughter she never wanted, or rather, the daughter she wasn’t allowed to want,” she explains.  

“I have not said to my parents the words ‘I am transG or talked to them about pronouns,” says Shraya. “But in some respects, this westernised approach to coming out feels redundant, especially while having a mum that goes bindi and bangle shopping with me. I would love to share this project with her, but I also worry that it will make her feel sad and guilty and that’s not my intention.”

Despite their closeness, their relationship is as fraught as any other mother/child dynamic. “I have an insisting desire to please her, even as an adult,” Shraya admits. Her project parallels their struggles, separated by several decades: Shraya’s mother’s cultural assimilation from India to Canada and balancing of work, education and domestic life, with Shraya’s own exploration of transness and femininity.

She found that her mother and their relationship, strengthened by what she sees as a “past life kind of bond”, were recurring themes in her art. Her short film, Holy Mother My Mother, paints a portrait of motherhood during India’s Navaratri (Goddess) festival. One photo in particular of her mother that she used stuck with her. “While transitioning, it felt uncanny to look at this photo, and to see photographic evidence of my modelling of her,” says Shraya. “This project was born out of wanting to document this ‘evidence’ further.”

Trisha introduces a previously unreachable dimension to their relationship, as Shraya uncovers aspects of her mother’s life she longs to be close to. She restages moments where her mother cut birthday cake, playfully posed in traditional Indian dress and wandered a beach, questioning their shared girlhood, motherhood and nuanced notions of femininity.  In her artistic essay, addressing her mother, she relates: “I remember finding these photos of you three years ago and being astonished, even hurt, by your joyfulness, your playfulness. I wish I had known this side of you, before Canada, marriage and motherhood stripped it from you, and us.”

“You used to say that if you had a girl, you would have named her Trisha.”

Check out more from Vivek Shraya here