The queen is dead, people are asking for the khohinoor back.. Australia and its First Nation Peoples voices are sounding louder than ever (so good to hear!)
The world feels like its changing..
I sit here and reflect.. hoping to let go of my past and hoping I have come to the end of my search.. and into a new era giving through this art..
Shastram has been a means for me to decode what had happened to me culturally. Growing up in Australia as a south asian made me want to become invisible... and a part of me was erased and I had thought that, that was a normal part of life.. but the more I mature the more of me I am discovering.. and shastram has been the space where I have explored a thousand thoughts and I am grateful for that..
I share with you now a bit of my cultural history.
It was when I did the project Patra in Melbourne in 2019 that I was first introduced to this concept of a cultural burden. I had named a theatre show Patra thinking it is an apt title as the show explored women of the diaspora and the roles the played in transferring Indian classical dance into the community. It was during this time that Dr Priya Srinivasan pointed out that the title "Patra" could also be associated with the idea of a woman being a bearer or a vessel for carrying culture forward.. especially among south asian communities.. and that this idea was problematic. Since then I have reflected on this.. I have to say that this has definitely the case in my life. One one hand my culture crippled me.. on the other it enriched and empowered me.. Today I stand being happy for both effects.. because that which did not kill me made me stronger.
My parents were very strict in ensuring my brother and myself (especially me) never forgot Tamil, and knew our culture and heritage. This was important on many levels. We were Sri Lankan Tamils, subject to genocide. Our race survived but it didn't come without a fight.. they literally tried to wipe us out.... so my mother especially instilled in us that which they were trying to destroy.. Was that how she fought back? I'm not sure.. I must ask her..
On the other hand the simple passion my parents had for the culture and language.. they were leaders in the community trying to make sure the younger generation knew our identity.
With me especially it was taken to another level, to the point where I was not allowed to cut my hair , dress like the norm or hang out with anyone of a different culture after school and basically not allowed to assimilate. This was horrific as a teenager... but it also worked as an excuse for me to hide inside the cultural "blanket" as I didn't feel welcomed by the mainstream Australian community nor did I feel like I fit in Anyway!!!
I explored a world outside of my reality. One with films, music, dance and one that romanticised another country.. far off places and times. For me the situation was like standing in the middle of two swords and the only escape being a bubble of fantasy.. art and culture which I escaped into... my wonderland..
Was it painful? yes... it was a way of coping with displacement, not only mine but my family's.. and who should I point the finger at? The civil war in Sri Lanka? Colonisation? My parents' need to shove their fossilised culture down my throat? The white Australia that "othered" me the minute it saw me... or my fear of the unknown and not being able to accept the changes in front of me.. or not being brave enough to fight ideas floating around in mainstream Australia, as to what "normal' was? OR??? should I point at my parents idea of what "a good tamil girl"should be?? I only have 10 fingers to point..
Many things could be blamed.. also how far down history do we want to go?
I certainly did take that trip down history through Shastram... but I suppose today I would not be me if I didn't go through everything I went through.. and even Shastram would not be here or any of my art work.. The fact that I have been able to untangle this cobweb i was stuck in, through my art, has been a blessing in itself. That I guess is the silver lining in all of this..
Even realising my own beauty was a part of this journey. Beauty is not just physical appearance.. it is to me a celebration of ones entire composure.. that, to me is beauty and sringaram.. the sringaram that is the essence of Indian classical dance... and perhaps I would not have realised this deeply, had it not been for my journey and exploration.. I note here that the converted are more devout than the ones who were born in it... and I truly consider myself a convert when it comes to sringaram.
I had mentioned several times that I had felt ugly growing up.. because I didn't fit into the version of beauty that was presented to me.. not the ones in white society and not even the ones in Indian society. But again through this art.. through its history.. I was able to explore the way in which we were taught to think.. and then understand how false it all was to me individually..
In fact, had it not been for all these hardships I doubt I would even have become an artist. The only reason I escaped into art was to survive and to cope with what was happening around me.It was a cathartic experience.. and the stories.. and the art.. that have been developing in this process are things I could never have imagined otherwise..
beauty born through turmoil..
So I suppose I am actually very grateful for this journey
Luckily today we live in a society where we can voice all of this without feeling ashamed or being victim shamed.
Yes this has been my journey.. a painful one.. but a fruitful one I hope and I do dream of a much kinder future.. even in the way in which Indian Classical dance has been taught and practiced and how beauty has been perceived within this space. I will most definitely endeavour to be an advocate of this through my work going forward.
I look forward to sharing a lot more through Shastram TV and the various projects that are going to be coming up through the Shastram space. I also encourage others to share stories and thoughts and yes your pain too.. you never know who is reading and who it might help..
so share and you are always welcome to join this journey..