In Conversation With Aneesha Vaswani? The Makeup Artist Whose NAAZ Photo Series We Are Doting On

NAAZ means pride in Hindi. Aneesha Vaswani believes this word was in the shadows before the watershed reading down of Section 377 last year, and so she came up with NAAZ ? a photo series featuring six individuals from the LGBTQ+ community, each styled in a colour of the pride flag telling us up, close and personal what naaz means to them.

In times like these, when section 377 has been rightfully, legally dumped, the community faces the question of what next ? same-sex marriages, inheritance rights, societal acceptance are all little steps to fully realise the human rights of the community that have been under repeated violation. Aneesha, who teamed up with photographer Harish and stylist Divya, collaborated for NAAZ to give us a glimpse of what it means to live in a post-377 India through 6 young voices of the community. This is what she had to say about the project, the people featured, the community, and naaz.

Q. Your project NAAZ features LGBTQ+ youth of India discussing their experiences of homophobia, opinions on the 377 verdict, and their definition of Pride. What led you to conceive this project? What was your vision of it?

Most companies in India and even the world over changed their brand logo for Pride month. I personally believe that if you wanna support or be allies you can’t simply use rainbow capitalism to do it. These are real people with real lives and real problems that they face every single day and we need to bring the voices of these people forward, instead of a marketing gimmick to stay on top of the relevant “trends”.

I thought that if I could impact even the small number of people that know me with real information about the LGBTQ+ community and its complexities then I’d be making a change, miniscule but a change! My vision was simply to show that Pride is a feeling that regular brown youth feel too, it doesn’t always have to be big Hollywood icons or activists!

NAAZ to me was a testament to all those facets of life where LGBTQ+ youth exist and literally bring love and happiness into whomever’s lives they touch. I wanted to normalize that feeling, normalize love, normalize happiness, normalize pride.

Q. Can you elaborate on how you chose the people featured? How did the process of fixing colours for each of them look like?

The criteria for me was young, brown LGBTQ+ youth and their strong allies (if willing to participate!). I love the people I picked so much because I actually know 4 of them from boarding school so it was literally the best reunion ever for all of us! I fixed each color for each person by the vibes that came to me when I personally spoke to all of them when I initially approached them about the project! I know that it sounds silly, but my gut just knew that once I finalised each color it was almost like each person’s soul was that colour! Like, for example, for Vaibhav, Blue made so much sense because he’s just one of the calmest people you’ll encounter and still isn’t rigid, his energy flows like water!

Q. The people featured offer enormous insight into the challenges, struggles, and visions for the LGBTQ+ community through their stories. Can you describe the process of interviewing them?

I had a set of questions that I basically used as a guideline and asked real questions after gauging the response to those. I mostly did phone interviews with each person before each day of posting their colour. For me, the emotions had to shine through so I had to amend my questions if and when it was required to remove the awkward rigidity of some answers. It can sometimes be hard to open up about stuff, especially something as personal as sexuality. Some people were very comfortable and some took a little time to truly answer with real feeling and conviction. This was actually one of the best parts for me as creative director of this project because I honestly felt truly connected to each of these people as they bared their soul to me!

Here are my base questions:

  • Tell me about yourself and what you do.
  • What do you identify as?
  • When did you come out and what was your experience of it?
  • Have you ever experienced homophobia? What is your way of fighting it in this country?
  • Any comments on section 377 and the future of India, when do you think the laws will be in favour for all and provide us with equal anti-discriminatory rights?
  • How do you balance religion and sexuality, if you’re religious at all?

Q. Do you plan to have more projects centered on the community/have an extension of NAAZ in future?

Yes, of course! I would honestly love to! Naaz holds a piece of my actual heart and it was a passion project that was completely self funded by me, the amazing photographer Harish (@harish_18 on instagram) and Divya our stylist (@da_style on instagram). We did it all in one day, 6 people, 3 shots per person. I think for a single day we achieved something beautiful and amazing and I hope it can be an even bigger project next year!

As a Makeup Artist, I wanna do projects not only about the LGBTQ+ community but about other real and important issues like marital rape, whitewashing our culture, feminism in India, hypermasculinity and its issues, depression and anxiety and the list goes on and on. I wanna bring activism and my art together in an aesthetically stimulating way and hope to god I educate people in the process!

Q. Lastly, what are your expectations/hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community’s rights and lives? What does pride mean to you?

I hope that in future we stop policing love! I am super passionate about the LGBTQ+ community not only because I have best friends that are a part of it but for those hundreds, thousands, millions of kids that stay in the closet in fear of being bullied or worse. I want to let those closeted kids and people know that there are safe spaces for them! The community as a whole is one of the most vibrant, happy and accepting communities and there is place for everyone, no matter where on the spectrum you are! I want sexuality to someday be seen as not something shameful if you’re not cishet!

PRIDE or NAAZ to me means so much more than a parade, it means fighting for love, hoping for it to prevail and eventually touching millions with that afterglow!

Check out Aneeshaa’s work at @annieeaesthetic on Instagram.

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