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Fearless Residency – A Manifesto

You know when you spend hours and hours on an application and think – I’m probably not going to get this, what’s the point?

Well… I’m trying to stop doing that so often. Instead of writing what I think they want to hear, I’m writing the absolute truth and if they don’t like it, I guess I’m not right for them. I’ve noticed 2 things:

  1. I can’t really apply for things that I don’t want to do;
  2. The process of writing an application has become a useful exercise in self-reflection.

I recently took the opportunity to apply for the Fearless Residency, an amazing public art residency in Sri Lanka. I spent hours on it and gave it a good shot, but given my background, I doubt my prospects. Still when I read over the questions and answer it I feel like this is worth more than an application.

I want to share it with you because it’s my manifesto. Because it’s one of those things that maybe someone, sometime will read somewhere and something will happen…

 


 

What is your Creation Story?

Tell us about your personal history, your roots, your politics, your journey of becoming who you are today

 

I grew up in an affluent neighbourhood in London. I’m an only child, daughter to a North Indian and Tamilian who came to parenthood late for their generation. Their life revolved around me and a retail business they ran together. They didn’t know many other Indian people, my dad having moved to the UK alone in the 70s, and my mum from New Delhi aged 36 for marriage. Both ‘Born Hindus’ as they liked to say, but modern and without community, they didn’t know what to do on Diwali. We celebrated Christmas and I attended Sunday school with my friends sometimes. I went to private schools and spent my free time at summer camps and with other families while my parents worked hard. I visited my mum’s family in New Delhi at least twice a year, sometimes with my mum and sometimes alone. Aged 13, I decided I wanted to ‘find my roots’ and started boarding school in India. My parents moved back to India one year later and I have since never lived in any space for more than 2 years, living all over India and Northern Europe.

Since I can remember I have struggled with my identity. I have few memories from my youth but I remember aged 11 crawling into my parents bed and crying because I was having an ‘identity crisis’. I also remember starting a Word Document entitled ‘Being Hinglish’. I have always felt unrooted, without a strong sense of cultural, geographic, or even familial belonging.

As a result I have sought out belonging elsewhere. Being short, friendly, entertaining, independent and desperately seeking connection, I have found myself deeply embedded in the lives of many different people and families. This is who I am today – nothing and everything. I have known journeys of all ages and backgrounds, and so intimately, that I believe in everything and anything. I believe in context. I believe in being curious, in being understanding, in being empathetic. I believe in being open, always learning and always adapting. I believe that the personal is political and that honesty with myself and others can be radical politics.

My father is from a working class background in Bangalore. He was very particular that in spite of our wealth I should spend time with different types of people and be a charitable person. Always politically and socially engaged he has become New Delhi’s ‘Matkaman’, a community activist. My biggest fan and friend, he has undoubtedly shaped my beliefs and passion for social justice. I am adamant that I use my privilege and wealth for a better world. I refuse to join the rat race.

As Toni Morrison said to her students “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

 

To whom do you belong?

Tell us about your communities and what future life you vision for them

 

Community is my family, but they live on a different continent. Community is my close friends, but most live in other countries. Community is the people in my day-to-day, though I have a personal relationship with few. Community are those who share my interests, my profession. Community is my neighbourhood, a 5 or 10 mile radius. Community is the British-Indian community to whom I belong but have no cultural affinity. Community is the country of my ethnicity, where I appear to come from but always feel like an imposter. Community is Tamilians and Sri Lankans with whom I share genes and whose cuisine I have known intimately. Community is Britain, the country of my citizenship. Community is humanity, the species I survive amongst. Safe to say, I don’t know to whom I belong.

There have been times in my life where identifying my allegiances to these communities has felt unbearably overwhelming. But when I think about it on a very practical level, I have always nurtured a sense of community in spite of this complexity. Because community is my priority. I desperately need to feel connected to people and I want other people to feel connected too.

Connection is our human need but I observe it to be lacking all around me. In Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’, an anarchist visiting a capitalist society observes: “…he had not considered what it might be like to be on one’s own in a society where men did not trust one another, where the basic moral assumption was not mutual aid, but mutual aggression. He was a little frightened.” I believe fear and isolation are major problems in our communities. It is a problem that crosses race, class and geography. I hope for a future where we all feel more connected.

I actively work towards changing this. Whether that be making time to visit my parents, regularly contacting my distant friends, speaking to strangers, creating art out of my most personal experiences so that other people feel less alone, volunteering to promote women or world music, to manage the website of my local sports club or serve breakfast to the homeless, facilitating free political workshops, working in local special needs education and more. Ultimately I try to embody what I want my communities to look like, wherever I find myself and however I can. I will be active, I will be kind and I will reach out.

This summer I returned to the room I spent my first 13 years. Geography and home are important to me right now. I recognise the immense privilege of living in an affluent neighbourhood so I serve free breakfast at a community centre called ‘Rumi’s Cave’ nearby. In the 10 minutes it takes to walk from my house to the community centre, I cross a municipality, a class line and a demographic. Homelessness is a huge problem in London and this is the community I want to reach out to right now.

 

What do you make?

Tell us about your art practice. What stage in your artistic growth are you at? What skill sets do you come to us with? Is your practice rooted in a tradition? Have you worked in public space?

 

I’m committed to revealing my inner most thoughts and experiences. I strongly believe that underneath it all, in our deepest thoughts, we’re all recognisably human. I believe that the personal is political and that it’s all about the process.

My art practice is an expression of these ideas. I am most prolifically a cartoonist; I write an autobiographical comic strip. I am an author; I write on the experience of womanhood. I share these creations in the format of zines. I also work with portraiture, photography and audio-visual experiences; I sing and play the guitar.

I have worked and presented in numerous public spaces; I have spoken at comic conferences and events, exhibited at zine festivals, presented a solo interactive show in a shop, conducted free art festival workshops, facilitated artistic community projects, and worked with socially-engaged arts organisations.

I also use my creative skills in a commercial capacity. I am an Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Web Designer and Videographer. I am an established freelancer providing artistic, affordable and mutually beneficial solutions to clients with limited means eg. charities, other artists. I often provide administrative and marketing support too. I also work in education and am currently completing a teaching qualification to learn more about sharing my skills.

I’ve only started calling myself an artist in the past 2 years. It was a big step, though I have been working as a creative much longer. With this confidence and a huge portfolio of creative work behind me, I am flourishing. I am a working community artist. I want my art to be shared and have clear social purpose. It need not be ‘mine’. I aspire to always be growing in participative arts practice. In that I think I’m at a stage where I have enough experience behind me to know what I am doing, but enough in front of me to be inspired and transformed. I believe in my skills, I know how I want to use them and I’m not scared to try, fail and succeed.

 

Tell us about why you feel Fearless is relevant in your space.

Tell us a story about how fear exists in public spaces where you live and how you think you can use the Fearless Methodology to replace that fear with love and trust.

 

Deptford is a historically black working class neighbourhood but as transport links to central London have improved, it is gentrifying. The high street reflects this change; trendy bars are wedged between knick knack shops and cheap takeaways. One such place is ‘Deptford Does Art’.

In September they hosted a Zine Festival which I exhibited in. On the opening night the Zines were hung beautifully on the wall and I drank and enjoyed networking. In the middle a noise artist performed in the shopfront. It was loud and obnoxious and a group of 6 of us moved outside, some smoking and drinking pints of local craft beer.

At some point a black woman wearing dirty clothes came to the middle of our circle and asked for money to find shelter. We all shook our heads and apologised. She showed us scars on her body, told us her woes and we looked down, embarrassed. She started shouting louder and louder “I can’t believe none of you can help me, I can’t believe none of you can help me,” until the owner of the place led her away, as if they knew each other. She was right. I couldn’t believe it either. I really didn’t know what to do.

Amongst other things, I believe this situation was about fear. Fear of each other, fear of the needy, fear of the unknown. This situation is all-pervasive in London where the current trend is selling affordable housing and public spaces for private companies to convert into luxury flats. ‘Rumi’s Cave’, where I volunteer, faces this exact issue. Though I participate in Zine Festivals, I want more arts activities in the spirit of social change, that bring different people together rather than divide us. I think I could use the Fearless Methodology to create public art where all types of people feel welcome, create together, seek respite from destructive forces, and ultimately move towards social change.

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