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Vancouver Artist Advocating for Accessible Art and Ending the Stigma against 2SLGBTQ+ People

Photo provided by Jag Nagra

Art is an essential part of life, a way to express our thoughts and feelings for millennia. There are also health benefits. For the past few decades, there’s been research and examinations of creative self-expression and its effects on mental health. Even viewing art can boost one’s well-being, get more in touch with one’s emotions, and reduce stress.

However, sometimes there are barriers to seeing it, whether financial barriers to visiting a gallery or the physical ability to go and see it. That’s why artists like Jag Nagra create art that’s accessible to everyone. You might see Nagra’s scattered everywhere in downtown Vancouver, eye-catching artwork inspired by South-Asian culture on banners, walls, or stairs. For Nagra, that’s what art can do, transforming a space of concrete and buildings into a tapestry available to everyone.

“It goes from a grey building or a grey plaza, and it livens it up so much. I find art tends to draw people in, and you create place-making initiatives surrounding the art. The reason I love public art so much and the reason I love doing it so much is because it creates accessible art. You don’t need to go to a gallery space. You don’t have to go to a museum that might be stuffy or whatever, where you don’t feel welcome. You can just go wearing whatever you’re wearing and just take it in.”

Accessibility is more than having art for anyone to see at any time. It’s also creating inspiration and opportunity for others to pursue art themselves.

Art wasn’t always on Nagra’s radar, although she’s held the title of “artist,” having her first job as a “sandwich artist.” After learning about graphic design from her brother, who was taking a course for a diploma, her eyes were opened to the possibilities of art. The funny thing is,  throughout high school, Nagra didn’t draw a single picture, feeling she could never do what others did, but at that moment, she knew she wanted to try it. Taking a graphic design course, graduating, and getting her first graphic design job, Nagra quickly learned how different what was practiced in school versus what was expected on the job. A few years into it, she felt trapped.

“If I quit now, the only thing I’ll have on my resume is this one job, and that’s the kind of job I’ll be able to get in the future, which I don’t want. So I started teaching myself how to draw.”

Nagra had told herself for so long that to be an artist; a person had to produce hyperrealistic artwork. However, as she practiced, she developed her unique style and learned art is what you make of it. “Maybe this is my style? Maybe, I can embrace this.” She learned to try not to change yourself but to embrace who you are, all your differences and intricacies. She began to experiment with colour and mediums and introduced aspects of her culture and heritage into her pieces. Nagra’s advice, do what comes naturally to you and practice.

This idea of self-reflection and acceptance has inspired Nagra to become a voice against the stigmatization of the 2SLGBTQIA+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, plus) community. Like many within the queer community, Nagra felt isolated and always questioned, “What is wrong with me?” She spent many years worried that extended family would find out, not that she cared what they thought about her or their opinions, but the potential backlash it could have on her parents. Nagra reached a point in her life where she could be open about herself, her parents are incredibly supportive, and Nagra is now married to her wife and has two children. Relatives now call her parents asking for updates on her and her family. “I’m now living a life I never thought I would.”

Nagra now hopes to be that inspiration for others, sharing her life story on the award-winning 2SLGBTQIA+ “Emergence: Out of the Shadows” created by Sher Vancouver, speaking at Pride events, and creating Pride artwork.

“When I came out, my parents thought we were the only family going through this. I thought I was the only queer Punjabi woman for so long. I don’t want other families to go through that, and I want them to see there’s at least one other person like them.”

There’s still stigmatization and hatred focused on the queer community, says Nagra. She aims to educate the general public and be a voice and visible figure for 2SLGBTQIA+ kids looking for representation and guidance.

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– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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