Toronto trans artist Vivek Shraya steps into mother's role in photo essay
Photo essay explores motherhood, femininity, misogyny, creator says
Vivek Shraya channels her mother as she looks at the camera.
Delicate ruby nails support each knife frozen above twin birthday cakes, almost identical sparklers suspended in the photographs published side-by-side.
But although the subjects in each picture look similar, they have been taken at two different times and feature two different people.
Half of the 18 photos that make up Trisha, the photo essay recently published by Shraya, were shot in the '70s. They each feature her mother in her early 20s, freshly immigrated to Alberta from India and newly married.
The other half feature Shraya, a trans person, artist and author, who says she now sees more of her mother's reflection in the mirror — after a lifetime of being told she looked like her father.
While it's a deeply personal piece of artwork, Shraya says she wants others to look at it and question the ways in which society oppresses women, illustrated in, part, by her mother's desire to have only sons so that they would "not feel like a burden."
"When I take off my clothes and look in the mirror, I see Dad's body, as you wished," Shraya writes in the photo essay. "But the rest of me has always wished to be you."
Even though the project was inspired by her mother, Shraya said she has yet to show it to her, although she says her mother has been extremely supportive of her transition.
"I would love to share it with her down the road, but I haven't quite gone there yet," she said in an interview. "I talk about my mom's prayer to have only boys and the ways I feel shaped by that and I worry that my mom would read that and think I'm blaming her in some way — and I'm not at all. If anything I feel like my mom has been one of the earliest supporters."
You can see the resemblance between the two.
Each young subject looks up at the camera from under thickly-lined lashes, a playful smile threatening to break their composure, as they sit wrapped in a gorgeous turquoise sari.
"It was beautiful to see her glow in that way, but I also felt kind of hurt because I was like, 'Why didn't we get to see this?,'" Shraya says of her mother. "Why didn't get to have this experience of you?'"
Shraya has submitted the photos to several galleries, but, for now, the project exists here.