"My story has always been bound to your prayer to have two boys," artist Vivek Shraya writes in an essay titled "Trisha."
"Maybe it was because of the ways you felt weighed down as a young girl, or the ways you felt you weighed down your mother by being a girl," Shraya continues. "Maybe it was because of the ways being a wife changed you. Maybe it was all the above, and also just being a girl in a world that is intent on crushing women. So you prayed to a god you can’t remember for two sons and you got me."
Shraya wrote the essay to accompany her photography project, also dubbed "Trisha," a nod to her mother's affection for the name. If she'd had a girl, Shraya notes, her mother would have named her Tricia.
In the photos, the transgender artist recreates old images of her mother with herself as the subject, wearing clothing and occupying spaces similar to the wardrobe and settings featured in her mom's vintage shots. "While I have been transitioning, I see so much of my mother in my face," Shraya explained to The Huffington Post. "The idea for this project came from wanting to capture this similarity."
To create the images, Toronto-based Shraya worked with a team of creative people including photographer Karen Campos Castillo, makeup artist Alanna Chelmick, hair stylist Fabio Persico, designer Mickelli Orbe, and set and wardrobe assistants Shemeena Shraya and Adam Holman. Together they recreated the scenes featured in Shraya's mother's portraits -- 1970s images that the artist discovered three years ago, which showcase her mother before she moved to Canada, married and became a mother.
"One of the things that struck me the most about the photos when I first saw them was how different she seemed to be then compared to now," Shraya said. "Her demeanor in the photos has a carefree quality and I have only ever known her to be burdened with worry, which is perhaps the nature of being a mother."
One of Shraya's favorite photos shows her mother in front of a train with a tissue tucked into her hand.
"Even to this day, she always has a tissue tucked into her sleeve," Shraya added. "Selfishly, I am grateful for this symbol of endurance, if only because I feel guilty for partly being responsible for how she has changed."
According to Shraya, the project began as a way of capturing their likeness, the ways in which the artist appears and acts like her mother. But upon seeing the images side by side, Shraya said the project forced her to grapple with the ways they don't look or act alike. She recalls it being hard to see the photos at first, new and old, because all she could see were their differences. With time to digest the photos, though, Shraya has come to realize that their differences are just as important as their similarities.
"Despite our closeness, my mother will always be a mystery to me," Shraya said. "As I was engaging with these photos, I often tried to uncover this mystery a little: What is she thinking about, being a new bride and a new immigrant in Canada, as she glances up at her own wedding photo? Why is she holding that stuffed animal? Did she make that birthday cake for herself? And yet, placing myself in her shoes, I don't feel like I understand her more or better. But I do feel like I see myself differently."
Shraya told BuzzFeed that she has yet to show her mother the new images, but she hopes she will one day. "I adore my mother, and there is so much of her in me," she concluded, "but I am not her. And I don't have to be! I get to be something new."
Below is the full essay and more photos from "Trisha," courtesy of Shraya. See more of her work on her Instagram.
By Vivek Shraya
My story has always been bound to your prayer to have two boys. Maybe it was because of the ways you felt weighed down as a young girl, or the ways you felt you weighed down your mother by being a girl. Maybe it was because of the ways being a wife changed you. Maybe it was all the above, and also just being a girl in a world that is intent on crushing women. So you prayed to a god you can’t remember for two sons and you got me. I was your first and I was soft. Did this ever disappoint you?
You had also prayed for me to look like Dad, but you forgot to pray for the rest of me. It is strange that you would overlook this, as you have always said “Be careful what you pray for.” When I take off my clothes and look in the mirror, I see Dad’s body, as you wished. But the rest of me has always wished to be you.
I modeled myself -- my gestures, my futures, how I love and rage -- all after you. Did this worry you and Dad? Did you have the kinds of conversations in bed that parents of genderqueer children on TV have, where the Dad scolds the Mom -- ”This is your fault”? No one is to blame. Not you, not the god you prayed to. I was right to worship you. You worked full-time, went to school part-time, managed a home, raised two children who complained about frozen food and made fun of your accent, and cared for your family in India. Most days in my adult life, I can barely care for myself.
I remember finding these photos of you three years ago and being astonished, even hurt, by your joyfulness, your playfulness. I wish I had known this side of you, before Canada, marriage and motherhood stripped it from you, and us.
I learned to pray too. My earliest prayers were to be released from my body, believing that this desire was devotion, this was about wanting to be closer to god. I don’t believe in god anymore, but sometimes I still have the same prayer. Then I remind myself that the discomfort I feel is less about my body and more about what it means to be feminine in a world that is intent on crushing femininity in any form. Maybe I got my wish to be you after all.
You used to say that if you had a girl, you would have named her Trisha.