Art Institutions

In the past few years, several art collectives have emerged in India. Many of these work with individuals and groups excluded from ‘mainstream’ networks of art. Alternative sites of art creation and circulation have arisen through their work which have actively responded to issues of gender, sexuality and politics in the country. [1]

Trans*scending Barriers through Art

The Aravani Art Project, a collective run by women and trans-women, uses public art to bring attention to a community that previously lacked representation and inclusion in traditional spaces. Formed in 2016, Aravani creates art on urban walls and streets as it is here ‘that the bodies of Transgender identifying people attract violence, harassment, social negligence and pressure’. [2] Through their work, they strive to build discussions around gender identity. Aravani has produced a mural for the upcoming Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) and painted a tribute to Covid Warriors at the Swami Vivekananda Metro Station in Bengaluru. Their 2019 venture with the Serendipity Arts Festival for the installation Not Just Faces consisted of 60 portraits of trans-women. Collaborations with major institutions and festivals bring smaller enterprises like Aravani into spaces they might not have had access to previously. [3]

With regard to foregrounding trans* experiences and voices, another important community space and site for creative expression and gender discussions is the After Party Collective. Created by Vidisha-Fadescha and Shaunak Mahbubani, the group works towards developing an expanded idea of gender and what it is to be trans*. [4] Their recent exhibition, “Dance Trans* Revolution” at apexart, New York, attempts to elaborate on the idea of throwing parties as a critical and subversive practice. [5]

Between the Personal and the Political

Started in 2012 by artist Shilo Shiv Suleman with a core team of four women based in India, Pakistan and the USA, the Fearless Collective has been working rigorously to voice their dissent against oppressive laws through their paintbrush. Recent works include a mural of Muslim rag-picking women created at Lodhi Colony, New Delhi, in 2021 [6], part of a series of ‘fearless’ and uninhibited portraits of women on the walls of popular streets which aims to make visible their struggles, rights and power. During the peak of the second wave of Covid-19 in India in summer 2021, Fearless was in the foreground, providing healing and art therapy workshops for those on the margins. They created an art sale called ‘Fearless Immunity’, which raised funds for pandemic-related relief work in South Asia. [7] By June 20, 2021, they had collected over $16,000 with the help of 60 artists and distributed the money across 50 NGOs. [8] The collective’s Instagram handle is filled with works by artists which continue to be on sale to generate funds.

A collective from the Northeast, Anga Art Collective, formed in 2010 in Guwahati, Assam, by Anupam Saikia, is a community-based art space and initiative which explores freedom in praxis and in life. They focus on region-specific issues and work towards decolonizing art related to the socio-political and ecological narratives of the Northeast. They engage in multidisciplinary visual arts practices, ranging from writing, photography, murals, film screenings, performances and interactive art. [9] In recent times, they have actively protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), for which they were detained for making ‘unlawful and anti-government graffiti’. [10]

Another collective called Kadak, formed by South Asian women, works with storytelling through graphic art. They created a micro-site called ‘Creatives Against #CAA’ where they invited artists from across the country to contribute posters, digital posts, animated stickers, and printable files licensed under the creative commons license, meant for all to use in their protests against the proposed NRC-CAA laws. [11]

Reclaiming Cities

As can be seen from the above discussions, public art seems to have emerged as an important tool for smaller art collectives to raise their voices. This kind of art has received new impetus and fame through St+art India, a collective and NGO that has been changing the landscapes of metropolitan Indian cities through their signature pop-coloured street art since 2014. Founded by Akshat Nauriyal, Hanif Kureshi, Arjun Bahl, Thanish Thomas and Giulia Ambrogi, they operate through collaborations with individual artists, consulates, local municipalities and other collectives. [12] Notably, they have collaborated with the Aravani Project and Fearless Collective to create murals in popular and populated parts of Indian cities such as Sassoon Dock in Mumbai, the Lodhi art district in Delhi, the flower market in Bengaluru, and Kannagi Nagar in Chennai. [13]

Reviving Art Forms and Livelihoods

Sahaje Swadhin, an initiative by Dara Shikoh Centre for the Arts, works to uplift a community through performance. Beginning from 2019, it has given a platform to Baul singers of Bengal to generate more performance opportunities and sources of income. The Bauls mainly earn their living by singing at events, festivals and people’s doorsteps. [14] Supported by Dr Jyotsana Singh and the Dara Shikoh Trust, and led by art historian Pronoy Chakraborty, the collective curated and hosted Baul concerts online for people during the Covid-19 lockdown. They gathered funds through individual donations and by selling tickets at nominal prices.

However, the purpose was not just to support the performers and their art form; the organizers also had the vernacular songs translated to English to ensure broader reach and better appreciation. Moreover, they collaborated with contemporary illustrators and artists who were invited to shoot, promote, and create Baul-themed art. With institutional help from Jadavpur University, NUS Singapore and the British Library, this collective has led to a long-term project called Songs of the Old Madmen which will take forward the good work. The project aims to preserve the personal notebooks of renowned Baul songwriters and singers, which carry a treasure trove of spiritual and religious literature and poetry obscured in indigenous traditions. [15] With curated themes for each concert and the inclusion of female Baul singers, Sahaje Swadhin has thrown new light on a centuries-old art form. They have so far promoted senior and renowned male singers like Debdas Baul, Kanai Das Baul, Nakshatra Das and Lakshman Das, and female Bauls like Rina Das and Sandhyarani Baul. [16]

Channels of Communication

As the Sahaje Swadhin example proves, most of these new age art collectives and artists are exploring the potential of online platforms and social media to make their work more accessible. Instagram has been a key player in this context. Formanywhodo not have the resources to make a website, Instagram, with its photo-friendly interface, allows creatives to display and sell their works online. This has enabled them to generate funds during the pandemic or otherwise. With changing technology, there has been a major shift in how we deal, perceive and buy art. Without the interference of a big gallery, patron or event, everything today can be conducted through social media. The collectives have become a part of this new wave of democratization and commercialization. Collectives like NFT Malayali, a global collective of Malayali artists from all genres in the crypto art space, function through the social audio app Clubhouse. Besides showcasing their own works, they also provide lessons on how best to ‘drop’ art virtually. [17]

For collectives with members and participants spread across different cities and countries, virtual platforms have also enabled easier methods of collaboration, communication and collective practice. Groups that have benefited from this aspect include the Pind Collective, set up by Avani Tandon Vieira and Ansh Ranvir Vohra in 2016. An initiative transcending borders, it has got artists from India and Pakistan to respond to each other’s works and collaborate digitally. The works have been hosted via online exhibitions on the Pind Collective’s website. Their latest project is an exhibition consisting of artists’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. [18]

Smaller art collectives in India and around the world are redefining and altering the notion of a ‘fixed’ site of art. Their existence and functioning out of alternative spaces allow them to engage in activism and act on social and political issues at a level that might not be possible for those working within formal networks such as galleries and museums. [19] The greatest power of marginalized communities stems from their ability to create alternative spaces for artistic expression, reclaim and reinvent pre-existing sites, and break away from dominant power structures in the art world.


[1] Shukla Sawant, “Instituting Artists’ Collectives: The Bangalore/Bengaluru Experiments with ‘Solidarity Economies’,” The Journal of Transcultural Studies 3, no. 1 (2012): 122-149.


[3] Ibid.

[4] “Artist Spotlight with After Party Collective,” Art e East,, November 12, 2021,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ishika Aggarwal, “Essentials: A Public Art Project by Fearless Collective,”, October 21, 2020,

[7] Fearless Collective, “Immunity (Caring for the Collective Body),” Instagram, May 3, 2021, .

[8] Fearless Immunity, “We raised over 16K USD,” Instagram, June 30, 2021, .


[10] Ratnadip Choudhury, “4 Artists Made to Erase Graffiti of Anti-CAA Activist in Assam,” NDTV, November 19, 2020,

[11] .

[12] Suneet Zishan Langar, “This Street Art Foundation is Transforming India’s Urban Landscape with the Government’s Support,” ArchDaily, August 18, 2017.

[13] .

[14] Priyadarshini Paitandy, “Catch This Baul Performance Online,” The Hindu, October 13, 2020, .

[15] ; .

[16] Gurvinder Singh, “Baul Singers Take to Digital Performances during Lockdown,” Village Square, February 1, 2021,

[17] Shilpa Nair Anand, “Malayali Artists Unite to Explore the Digital World of NFT,” The Hindu, August 10, 2021,

[18] Samira Sood, “The Pind Collective, an India-Pakistan Art Project that’s now Focusing on Responses to Covid,” May 31, 2020, The Print,

[19] Olga K. Sooudi, “Alternative Spaces and Artist Agency in the Art Market,” Arts 9, no. 4 (November 2020): 116, .

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