Navitha was born in 1986 in Singapore and has over the course her life lived in various countries including New Zealand, China, the Czech Republic and Zambia, where she has both worked and studied. She enjoys traveling, exploring and meeting people from all walks of life and often conveys her experiences and encounters in her work, sometimes going out of her way to experience something different. She is particularly interested in people in relation to social or psychological matters and afternates between serious and playful themes in her work. She is currently exploring transgender issues in her upcoming project.
Navitha graduated from Townshend International School in 2006 with distinctions in English Language and Literature, Biology and Fine Arts. She is currently pursuing a bachelors degree in Fie Arts Painting in lasalle College of the Arts and is in her second year.
Question (Q): Tell us about your work in the “Work in Progress” show.
Navitha Edmond (Navitha): In the show ‘Work in Progress’ I featured a series of photographs that I had collected from a trans-woman called Rosalind, who lives in Perth and is the secretary of the Chameleon Society, which is a transgender support center. Her photographs span over four decades and show glimpses of her progress and journey over the years. Being interested in the story behind the photographs I also recorded an interview with her, of her telling me her life story, which turned out to be a lot more interesting that I had imagined.
Q: How did you come about to explore this theme, which is pretty much uncommon in today’s general art practice?
Navitha: I am not actually sure where this sudden inspiration came from, perhaps it was while I was staying with my friend at Orchard Towers, and I remember walking up the stairs and just before I got to the top, this absolutely gorgeous trans-woman came through the doors, and it kind of reminded me of that scene in Miss Congeniality when Sandra Bullock first comes out of her make over and the wind catches her hair and she looks amazing, it was kind of like that, but of course without the comical trip and fall. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, I was so filled with curiosity and I realized that we tend to no pay attention to the aspects of society that do not concern or affect us. I suppose you could call it ignorance and apathy, and not wanting to be ignorant or apathetic, I began my quest (many many months later) to find out more about this lesser known demographic of society.
Q: How has your research journey been?
Navitha: It has been quite interesting and challenging. At first I started from my point of origin, which was Orchard Towers, and then I realized that I did not want to start with the stereotype of transwomen being sex workers, besides, you wouldn’t walk into someone’s office while they are trying to make sales so I thought it would be quite rude to approach them at Orchard Towers. I did however go into a bar, it was very strange and dodgy, and extremely awkward, so I did not stick around. So I turned to the internet, where I found an online support group and forum for transwomen, and so I requested to be a member of their group and stated my purposes, which were accepted. I then posted a request on the forum for people who would like to share their stories with me, and surprisingly I received quite a few positive responses. After that I met a lot of them in person, and some people even invited me to their homes I’ve actually made quite a few friends which is always nice.
Q: Do you face any difficulties, especially criticism and censorship regarding the sensitive issue?
Navitha: At the moment it is not an issue due to the fact that I’m still in school and my work has only been shown in school. This same piece, ‘Rosalind’ will also be featured in an upcoming exhibition in the Substation entitled ‘Etiquette’, so I wonder if the response will be different. But I get a surprising amount of positive responses and people who are genuinely interested in what it means to be transgender.
Q: This is a work in progress, so how far have the work evolved today? and when are you planning to show it again?
Navitha: Well, after having mainly focused on trans-women last semester, I realized that I was ever so slightly apprehensive of shifting my focus to trans-men. The thought of me deliberately avoiding that was unacceptable, so, I did it, I attempted a similar project, which featured trans-men instead of trans-women. It was significantly harder to find trans-men who are willing to share their stories with you, knowing that you will convey their stories somehow to others. I was lucky enough to find a young man who let me follow him around like a puppy dog and take photos and videos of him. Part of that work will be featured in the upcoming Diploma Show at Lasalle from the 26th-9th of June, and also in August, ‘Rosalind’ will be at the exhibition entitled ‘Etiquette’ at The Substation.
Q: Being in a rather conservative-still society here, how do your peers and lecturers view transgender-themed works? and do any of the other students approach similar or LGBT themes?
Navitha: There are varying views, while most people don’t seem to really have an opinion about it, a fair few people are quite interested and often come by to my space to ask me what I’ve been doing, and who I’ve met recently, and to share the stories they’ve told me. It’s more the boys that are interested but show distinct signs of disgust, it’s a shame really, but that’s also part of the reason I do it, to try to eliminate false prejudices. I have heard that other students before me have approached LGBT themes in their work, however I have not seen their work personally.
Q: Tell us more about your work in general, are they usually documentation or archival approach to a certain theme or society?
Navitha: Still being a student, I’m still growing and developing, although recently I have been quite interested in documentation as well as collecting both stories, photographs, artifacts. I hope to go back to at least some drawing and painting next year though ☺
Q: How do you see your work, especially Rosalind in Singapore’s local context, and in local art scene.
Being a young art student I definitely feel that my at work needs a LOT of improvement before it can be considered in the context of the local art scene, however I do feel that my approach to my work is quite different from most other works that I have seen, and may be interesting in that aspect. In relation to topic, it may definitely encounter some scrutiny and censorship, as some of my pieces do contain partial nudity and controversial themes.
Q: Any last words for the LGBT, or maybe transgender society here?
Navitha: I think it’s so important to be out, if you can be that is. If you still live with your family (I guess in Singapore most people do) and you think that they might kick you out, or if you need your parents to pay for your education still, then maybe it’s not such a good idea just yet, but I think it’s a good goal, to be out by the time that you’re 30, because most people who are homophobic etc don’t actually know any gay people most of the time, and their prejudices are often based on lack of first hand knowledge. By being out you make it easier on the next LGBT person that whoever you are out to meets and as a whole, it becomes more and more of a norm in society that eventually hopefully wont even get a second glance.