Discover | 7 min read | by Divya Bagaria | Mar 13, 2018

    “My aim is to have a gender neutral society” – Durga Gawde talks about life and art

    Durga Gawde is an artist and sculptor, who is gender fluid. She, um no, they have been known to work on unique projects and collaborations with individuals and organizations like Mixx, NH7 among others. Durga is a nomadic creative professional who travels around for different experiences and work, and embodies it as a way of growing and learning more. While in conversation with Durga, we learnt quite a bit ourselves, for example, when addressing someone who’s gender neutral, one must refer to them as ‘they, them, their’ and not him or her. Read on to know more about this colourful creator, and as they like to describe themselves, this ‘rainbow person’ and about their winding and rewarding voyage towards success.

    Exploring different passions

    Durga comes from a family of artists. For them, art and its forms were always a part of their world, most conversations, most events or most activities, “art has been more like a way of life for me”, they explain. Since their early childhood, they were aware of their creative desires.  Durga always found themself to experiment quite a bit when it came to art and creativity. They initially picked up photography, and after experimenting through their early years, they got into sculpting, something that has strongly become a part of their personality and the way they express themself.

    Being true to yourself

    Being true to themself and their passion is an integral part of Durga. One can often find them wearing pride, rainbow, colors with their outfits or at times as their outfit. Durga embraces the colors as they represent accepting and loving the difference between and within individuals. Journeying through different passions and professions, Durga has found it to have helped them feel more centred and clear. “I am my own entity,” Durga says, firmly. “Loving myself, and treating myself with care is very important for me. When I stop doing that, I become unhealthy about my choices, but when I continue to cherish myself, my life and work clearly reflect it”. This part of Durga can be seen from their early days when they would write love letters to themself. Even without realising it, little Durga was motivating themself to strive for more, to be more, while battling the cultural and social complexities surrounding them.

    Sense of community

    Durga’s time at educational institutions helped them grow a lot, but not quite in the way they expected to. During university years, Durga came to understand that while colleges and universities, even the more reputed ones, only seem to provide an educational community, but not necessarily one that holistically helps you grow and explore your passions, thoughts or struggles. They began to understand the value and cherish the sense of community and realised how one might not be in a community where they can ‘fit in’ but all that is needed is at least a single individual who can offer the motivation to push yourself to your professional limits and to test the boundaries of your versatility or resilience. “I have a pen-pal in Australia, who has been my friend for years now. I cannot express how grateful I am to have them”, Durga shares their source of comfort and companionship that helped them through difficult times. Durga eventually became a student RISD, where for the first time they began to feel like they were accepted and were a part of the community. They also chanced upon a professor, who became a mentor to them, pushing them to strive and achieve more, “He would keep making me rework my application statement, it was so frustrating but I am so grateful to him” says Durga.

    Change, within and around

    After coming back to India, in early 2017, Durga came out to their family and the world. Pleasantly surprised, Durga says, “Not a single person from my extended family and friends vocalised hateful or unkind remarks, somewhere I was actually expecting the opposite. It made me realise the importance of putting yourself out there”. Following their past experiences, Durga was even more appreciative of the support they were receiving. And once their interview with Gaysi was published, Durga found themself to be approached by different opportunities. “By being open to myself and my environment, it seemed that suddenly I had become open to receiving opportunities in life”.

    Realizing your aspirations

    Durga’s perception about communities was transforming, in due course, they started realizing the true potential of a community; a have to spread awareness, to grow together and to learn from one another. Durga’s experiences through different institutions and organizations have positively fueled their desire to start their own institution eventually. They now aim at starting a genderfluid institution, where equality would be the backbone of the community, “The university won’t be just an educational institution, it will be a self-sustaining space which is gender neutral”. Durga is steadily walking towards that path and that can be seen by the movements they have been involved in, for example, the campaign #thestreethasnogender. They are passionate about educating people and becoming involved helping people gain knowledge and perspective, breaking outdated learnings the society thrusts onto the next generation and forming a more open-minded community.

    Through the tunnel

    The roller coaster ride of Druga’s life has only begun. Durga is now a professional gipsy of sorts, moving around cities, doing and indulging in different assignments and plans, “I love my work and I love the fact that the kind of work I do sort of calls for me to travel and move around a lot.” While their numerous projects have made them understand and feel a range of emotions, but when asked about the project that meant to them the most, Durga shared with us the photograph of an installment created by them (image below), they say, “That project was the most emotionally challenging work I have ever done. I locked myself in for days, like a was in a bubble, reflecting. It was so surprising since I’ve never considered myself to be someone who would shut myself off from the world because I like movement so very much”. That project was an experience both emotionally exhausting and exhilarating for them. The end result was a work of art that had managed to capture all the layers and complexities that had been clinging inside of Durga for the longest time. While it was a personal achievement for Durga, their sincerity and rawness were recognized by the people in the community as well. Their piece (the name required), became a milestone for them both personally and professionally.

    Moving Forward

    Durga was recently invited to give a talk at an engineering college, in Kerela, they share,“It was such a heartwarming feeling, this tiny college in Kerela invited me to give a talk. They had written up my interview such consideration, where they used all the right prefixes and pronouns.” In March, Durga is going to Goa, at a creative retreat. “The guy who runs the place is a fine artist who is straight but is also a drag queen”. Durga reminisces as to how they have connected with different people through their journey, and how they have changed. “I was in Goa for a Reggae festival for my birthday, and it was such a great one. I was just thinking how much everything has changed and improved in just a year. 2017 was definitely a learning year for me.”

    Challenging yourself

    Durga says, “I definitely want to start my own institution, however, I also know that before that I need to work in different fields, challenge myself to keep learning and to keep moving forward”.