Last week on January 30 I had the privilege to exhibit my artwork and say a few words at the Tamils in Public Service’s 2nd Annual Tamil Heritage Month reception. I was encouraged by the progressive conversations that went beyond essentializing tamil identity with discussions exploring how as many communities we can come together for positive movement and change here and in the homeland.
I was hesitant to speak at first. However the act of pulling the speech together gave me an opportunity to reflect on what the last year living in Sri Lanka has given me, an experience that has changed my life completely. I have copied my speech, that reflection, below:
“I will admit that it was incredibly difficult to find the words to describe what Tamil heritage means to me and then to describe how that is reflected in my artwork. Personally, it is the culmination of an entire life lived as a Tamil woman, with all combinations and permutations of my identity, my ideas, my feelings and lived experiences. It’s why I paint and draw because sometimes for me words are not enough however this is my attempt, so please bear with me.
My relationship with my heritage and identity as a Tamil woman has and continues to evolve. It is one that bounces between many intersections. It is one led by my birth in Canada as a result of a civil war back home. It is one informed by my politics, my spirituality and love for the arts. It is also torn between my simultaneous privileges of economic access, language and caste and discriminations felt through gender, racialization and ethnicity.
Tamil heritage has of course always been steeped in its colourful and deep expression through art, dance, music and literature. It is also layered by political struggle and war and it’s effects on Tamil bodies, physically, mentally and spiritually. Tamil heritage is also resistance.
It is through my experiences living and working the last year in “post-conflict” Sri Lanka, witnessing the continued power and proliferation of the militarized state; the continued erasure of histories, temples, towns and language, of culture; and the continued endurance of Tamil women, girls and students in protest, that I found art as a refuge to reflect on Sri Lanka as I was seeing it and not ignore those crimes around me. It also helped me realize what a gift we have here in Toronto with our Tamil community, one, which I have taken for granted. It has been through art that I feel the most connected with my identity as a Tamil woman – a combination of continued artistic tradition, resistance and protest.
I also want to add that Tamil Heritage Month is an incredible achievement and acknowledgment of the contributions of our community, a month to celebrate and teach others of our culture.
I do think we need to find more ways to engage all corners of our community beyond traditional expensive galas that are not accessible to all. It is up to those of us with privilege to continue to find ways to uplift all members of our community here in Canada and back in the homeland. And to also step back and allow for all stories and experiences, to support more inclusive spaces for those of us who are less affluent, and for those in our LGBTQ community, spaces that are free of misogyny and discrimination. Tamil Heritage Month is an opportunity that we should take advantage of to explore this growth and change.