Durga Gawde is an artist, sculptor, and educator. Durga identifies as gender fluid and has educated us about a bunch more than just their profession. She, umm no – they have been known to work on unique projects and collaborations with individuals and organisations like Vice India, Lufthansa, NH7, and Mixx among others. Durga is a nomadic creative professional who travels around for different experiences and work, and embodies it as a way of constantly growing and learning. While in conversation with Durga, we learnt quite a bit ourselves, for example, when addressing someone who’s gender identity is non-binary, one must refer to them as ‘they, them, their’ among other pronouns like ‘ze’, and not him or her, but most importantly, all people should be addressed as they want to be addressed rather than addressing them with pronouns that one is used to using. Read on to know more about this colourful creator, and as they like to describe themselves, this ‘rainbow person’, 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 differences. 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 oneself
Being true to themself, their passion and the world is an integral part of Durga’s life, no matter how hard it can be to accept the truth about oneself. One can often find them wearing pride/rainbow, colors with their outfits or at times as their outfit. Durga embraces the spectrum as the colours of the spectrum 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 as a way to be there for 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, in India, 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 to be true, to be you and to be real, in the time they spent at the Rhode Island school of Design (RISD) while getting their BFA in Sculpture. But after coming back to India to teach at a college level, Durga realised that even though the sense of community is very different from the one they experienced in RISD, there was a need for 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 , who has been my friend for only a few months now. I have never met them in real life and never even video chatted with them but I cannot express how grateful I am to have them. They are also a gender fluid person and we write to each other and discuss all that comes with the kind of dyphoria we experience”, Durga shares their source of comfort and companionship that helped them through difficult times.
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 to create more awareness about acceptance by the self and by society. “By being open to myself and my environment, it seemed that suddenly I had become open to receiving opportunities. After accepting my own truth, my world seems to want to listen to me. It feels like a privilege, but why should it be a privilege? There are numerous people like me who have no way of expressing themselves or even understanding what is going on with them. This ends up in numerous suicides all over the world, people just give up on life because society does not let them be themselves. I too feared this for years before I came out and still do, but if life is hard anyway, I would rather live a life of truth, rather than masking my inner self and letting society decide my life for me.”
Realising your aspirations
Durga’s perception about communities was transforming, in due course, they started realizing the true potential of a community; the need to have to spread awareness, to grow together and to learn from one another, became more important than ever. Durga’s experiences through different institutions and organisations have positively fuelled their desire to start their own institution eventually. They now aim at starting an institution, where equality, acceptance and interest driven education, with a base in learning through making would be the essence of the community, “The university won’t be just an educational institution, it will be a self-sustaining space where gender does not dictate your roles, choices and interests”. 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 which was in collaboration with the brand MIXX. They are passionate about educating people and becoming involved in 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 Durga’s life has only begun. Durga is now a professional gypsy 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 a drawing created by them (image above), they say, “That project was one the most emotionally challenging works I have ever done. I kept having a dream about a creature which let me swim inside it, every single night for 6 months. The dream only stopped once I drew the creature as though I was swimming inside it.” 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. For Durga it was an image of creation of all types. While it was a personal achievement for Durga, their sincerity and rawness were recognised by the people in the community as well. Their piece, became a milestone for them both personally and professionally. There were many works after this piece, which challenged them mentally and emotionally, their thesis project at RISD, “In between Silences”(image below) being one of utmost importance. This work pushed them to look inside themself and became a gateway to their discovery towards gender fluidity.
Durga was recently invited to give a talk at a couple engineering colleges, in Kerela, they share,“It was such a heartwarming feeling, these tiny colleges in Kerela invited me to give a talk. They had written up my bio with such consideration, where they used all the right prefixes and pronouns.” In March, Durga spent their time in HH art spaces in Goa, at an artist residency.“The artist who invited me to the space, Nikhil Chopra, is someone I have looked up to ever since I was 16 years old, when I saw his 48 hour long performance at The Venice Biennale.” Nikhil transforms himself into characters which could be male or female and maybe in the future, both!” For Durga, the residency resulted in a performance art piece called “Bit by Bit”, this artwork was a 3 hour performance in front of a mirror. It was inspired from the dysphoria Durga deals with second to second and how their relationship with the mirror has pushed them to express themself the way they experience their gender which is ever-changing and constantly shifting. Images for this performance will soon be up on their pages on Instagram and Facebook.
Durga says, “I definitely want to start my own institution some day, however, I also know that before that, I need to work in different fields, challenge myself to keep learning and to keep moving forward. The institution I envision would be not only be accepting of everybody’s differences but also help people find a community which supports them to move forward with pride.”