‘We Are’ is an initiative by St+art India Foundation & Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS) with Asian Paints to break the stigma around AIDS through a powerful and artistic symbol of solidarity.
St+art India Foundation, TANSACS, Tidel Park and Southern Railway have come together to create India’s largest mural titled ‘We Are’. The artwork supported by Asian Paints, began in December last year; took approximately 40 days to complete, and spans a vast 63,000 sq. ft. It aims to de-stigmatise the HIV and AIDS affected community and empower them while sharing hopeful stories of survivors.
India has the third-largest HIV epidemic in the world. In 2017, HIV prevalence among adults (aged 15-49) was an estimated 0.2%. This figure is small compared to most other middle-income countries but because of India’s huge population (1.3 billion people) this equates to 2.1 million people living with HIV.
Overall, this epidemic is slowing down. Between 2010 and 2017 new infections declined by 27% and AIDS-related deaths more than halved, falling by 56%. (Source: UNAIDS Data 2018) However, issues including HIV-related stigma and low levels of awareness about how it is transmitted mean progress is not moving as quickly as hoped. With this mural, we aim to bust the myths and misconceptions that have stuck around and break away from the discrimination that arises from it!
The panoramic mural, titled ‘We Are’, spreads the message of shared humanity, of how people suffering or having recovered from AIDS deserve equal rights and a place in society. The mural drives this message home by mixing portraits of AIDS patients with those who don’t, showing how we are all human, and the same.
The mural is designed by Chennai-based graffiti writer and street artist A-Kill, along with Delhi-based Khatra. A-Kill, whose work is inspired by visuals offered by the streets and everyday life, is renowned for his skilled hand in portraiture, and his special connect with Chennai is reflected in this mural. This month-long project will be unveiled at Chennai’s Indira Nagar Railway Station.
COVID-19 has demonstrated that, during a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Leaving people behind is not an option if we are to succeed. With this ideology in mind, this mural reflects the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day, as declared by UNAIDS: “Global solidarity, shared responsibility”. Portraying several diverse yet familiar faces, the artwork celebrates these unique identities while reinforcing the notion that there are no physical determinants to AIDS.
The length of the Indira Nagar railway platform is 280 meters. Seen running through the station facade is the red ribbon – recognised symbol of AIDS awareness, and whose vivid red hue represents ideas of love and passion. The continuous flow of this powerful emblem across the station changes its landscape, emphasises the notion of community and collective responsibility and cements the station as a landmark of Chennai’s inclusive spirit. The underlying aim is to highlight art as an effective response to global crises, and a tool to deliver messages of awareness, feelings of longing or loss and ideas of hope. The mural depicts the portraits of five individuals, of which three are patients of HIV, but which cannot be determined by just visual appearances.
The reveal will be followed by a short and meaningful community activity, where the artists are going to be joined by people from the TNSACS who will write their thoughts on who ‘they are’ on the mural. The symbolic gesture, to be held on the completion of the mural later this month, will serve to strengthen the idea that people are much more than their diseases.
Amit Syngle, Managing Director & CEO, Asian Paints Limited says, “We at Asian Paints have always endeavored toward beautifying spaces with colour. Our association and partnership with St+art India Foundation is a step forward in the direction of making art accessible and inclusive, so that it can be enjoyed by the masses. So we were delighted to once again lend our support to a worthy cause that aims to destigmatize the social effects of AIDS, with a powerful mural at one of Chennai’s most prominent and public places, Indira Nagar Railway Station. We hope this beautiful mural would have the intended impact and be appreciated for the striking art and message it is attempting to convey.”
Shri. Deepak Jacob IAS, Project Director and Member Secretary TANSACS, mentioned that, “TANSACS, established in 1994 has been instrumental in the reduction of the HIV prevalence in Tamil Nadu, to 0.18 against the national average of 0.24 as per the latest reports. He said that in order to sustain the reducing trend of HIV prevalence in the state, TANSACS is expanding the awareness across all sections of the society and one such initiative is this ‘mural’ in the heart of the city. Thanking St+art India Foundation, Tidel Park, Southern Railway and Asian Paints for partnering with TANSACS for this initiative, he said this mural will be the standing example of the enabling environment and a symbol of solidarity for the people living with HIV in Tamil Nadu.”