‘Art is a provocation for change’: Celebrating International Women’s Day with Priya Srinivasan

Happy International Women's Day! Every day, women of colour are blazing trails in their fields and leading their communities, but their achievements aren’t always recognised. Valuing their contributions and achievements is vital to advancing gender and racial equality and to showcasing the voices of women of colour all around. We invite you to join us in recognising and celebrating their efforts, achievements and immense contributions - follow along as we profile some resilient and inspiring women of colour over the coming days. 

Today, we celebrate Dr Priya Srinivasan. 

“Don’t be afraid. We’re often so full of insecurities that we hold ourselves back. You are qualified, you can do it. Dream it into existence and don’t accept the norm”.

Dr Priya Srinivasan is an independent artist, choreographer and writer who lives and works in the lands of the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung people in Narrm/Melbourne combining theory and practice to work towards social justice issues through art.

Her performances prioritize feminist decolonization processes making visible minority women's histories. Her experimental, postcolonial site-specific work rooted in South Asian classical dance practice has been presented in major festivals and venues such as universities, museums, galleries, and theatres internationally in USA, Europe, China, India and Australia. As the co-director for Sangam: Performing arts Festival of South Asia and Diaspora and Lead, Strategic Projects at Multicultural Arts Victoria, she is a force of bold culture and social justice works in Melbourne’s art scene. 

International Women’s Day is a time for Priya to acknowledge all women and gender diverse people, of all backgrounds, struggles and strengths. Particularly for 2022, the bias she wants to break is that of the binary

“I really want for all of us to exist in a world that isn’t in a binary, and allows us to be more fluid and multiple,” she says.

“If you break the bias around the binary, you break a lot of things. If we move away from the binary, we get away from these simplistic understandings of gender, sexuality, caste, class, all kinds of difference”.

Her passion for this quest is clear through her works. Her intercultural collaborative feminist work with First Nations artists “Churning Waters” toured India for Australia Fest in 2019, bringing together artists from Arnhem Land, Kanchipuram, and Chennai and sharing stories of ancient knowledge, colonialism and water. Through her art, she challenges the dichotomy and bias in perception.

Priya notes that bias is not a simple concept to navigate.

“I think that it's really important to look at power, not in simplistic ways of men versus women necessarily, but really look at how intersecting issues of race, gender, caste class, socioeconomic background all have an impact on disempowering women”.

 

This power grid, as she describes it, can only be dismantled through structural change and the practice of everyday life. For Priya, her lived experience in change-making is through art.

“Art is a provocation for change and holds to account those different power grids. I have a very diverse set of practices, from being an artist to being a scholar, a writer, a researcher, and an equity advocate. So I really put theory into practice so that we can empower ourselves, colleagues, friends, audiences and organisations.”

Sangam is a platform for established and emerging diverse Victorian artists to learn, create and showcase their art alongside globally renowned artists from the Diaspora. Source: Sangam website. 

This process of dismantling barriers and breaking biases may seem challenging, but Priya has faith in South Asian women and gender-diverse people.

She further applauds the work of Meera Devi from Khabar Lahariya and all the other Dalit women who are a part of the independent news they founded. “(It is) inspiring to see women who come from the most marginal positions of life who rose from victimhood to taking control of their own representation despite all the dangers of the work they do,” she commends. 

Priya also encourages allies to understand the political and social realities and do everything within their power to improve conditions.

“Allyship also requires intersectionality. When you see something wrong, even if it’s small, when you see jokes, you have to understand the ramification and stop the violence early on.”

International Women’s Day is an important time to reflect upon our biases, how our prism of perception filters the information we absorb and impacts how we behave. Priya emphasises that this moment to pause and think about self-improvement is important for everyone.

She loves the spirit of the day and laughs a little as she says she wishes we had an International Women’s Day each week. A regular time to check in on the issues, wins and outlook for women and gender diverse people in the pursuit of justice.

“I think it’s important for us all to reflect regularly. How can I help effect change, every day, big and small? What can I do, and how can I be better?”

 

To the reader, what is your answer?


Tanaya Joshi is a science and culture writer at SAARI. She is the Impact and Communications Officer at Earthwatch Institute, a sustainability not-for-profit. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.