South Asian Heritage Month
Continuing our celebrations of South Asian Heritage Month, we sat down with our Community Engagement Officer Nip to find out more about why it's important we recognize the contribution that South Asian Culture makes to the arts.
What does South Asian Heritage Month mean to you?
South Asian Heritage month provides an opportunity to commemorate, celebrate and appreciate the rich culture of South Asia. The heritage month offers a chance for people to engage with and be educated about the wonderful identity, history, geography, and nature of one of the most colourful and creative regions in the world. This is a great time to share our culture with the rest of the society and to highlight all the positive contributions that our culture has given to the arts.
Why do you think it’s important that we celebrate South Asian Heritage Month?
South Asian Heritage Month will hopefully encourage people to explore and discover what Asian cultures around the world have to offer in terms of arts, food, language, history, and culture.
Nearly 3 million South Asians now live in the UK. 1 in 20 of us can trace our roots back to one of the eight countries of South Asia. The history of South Asia is closely linked to Britain and the creation of the British Empire. Many aspects of life as we know it are a result of this relationship. Educating ourselves and honouring the cultural legacy of South Asia can help us to build a more empathetic, vibrant and inclusive society for all.
How did growing up in Sri Lanka inspire your love for the arts?
Sri Lanka is a land of great cultural diversity. At a young age I was fortunate to explore the most visible features of the cultural landscape; Buddhist temples, Kovils, Mosques, and Churches, each with their own colourful rituals. The varying degrees of colonial impact, modernizing influences, wealth and income all add vibrant shades to the country’s culture.
The island also has a rich artistic tradition, encompassing music, dance, and the visual arts. Sri Lankan culture is internationally associated with cricket, a distinct cuisine, an indigenous holistic medicine practice, and religious iconography such as the Buddhist flag.
With the arrival of Europeans and urbanisation, the Sinhalese began to view theatre as a serious and secular art. At first, urban dramas were derivative borrowing heavily from English drama, or from Parsi theatre musicals (nurti) and Bombay and South Indian operatic plays (nadagam). Growing up in Sri Lanka, my best childhood memories are going to the theatre with my family. It became a tradition in our house to pick a theatre show each month that we went to watch. I was so amazed by all the performances, the dancing and singing, it transcended me to a different world. Furthermore, sharing my opinion and thoughts about the performances with my parents sparked different conversations and curiosity which led me to explore different genres of arts and theatre.
Buddhism, Portuguese and British colonizers are the primary influences on Sri Lankan music. Hypnotic drumming is one of the traditional music forms that can be heard at Buddhist and Hindu temples in the country. The Portuguese, on the other hand, brought cantiga ballads, ukuleles, and guitars along with traditional dance music called ‘baila’. Whenever our families got together, we sang and danced to a variety of music and songs including Kandyan dancing and baila.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, with the majority of the population being Sinhalese. Other ethnic groups that make up Sri Lanka's diverse society include Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils, Moors, and other minorities such as Malays and Burghers. Each of these groups has its own identity, customs & traditions. I am fortunate enough to continue to visit and explore arts and these rich traditions; and to celebrate diversity.
How can we support artists of South Asian heritage to get into rural touring?
Celebrating the heritage month brings together an inspiring mix of artists, designers, filmmakers, and writers which can provide a great platform and space to showcase their creativity. This is a great opportunity to establish awareness of rural touring and make the conversation happen. Coming together and sharing artists' stories about their own lives and heritage, as well as any barriers they have faced in their careers, and the role models who have had the greatest impact are paramount to understanding the cultural influences on the work artists of South Asian heritage are producing. By doing this we can learn from each other and enrich our own culture.
Why do you think it’s important to share work from artists of South Asian heritage on the rural touring scheme?
It is very important to share, promote, and encourage British Asian arts and artists on the rural touring scheme. Together we break down barriers, raise issues, amplify unheard voices and bring people together. The rural touring scheme allows us to educate people about Britain’s colonial past and tackle difficult issues within South Asian cultures head on. We can encourage conversations, unite cultures and most importantly, enjoy the exciting, colourful and inclusive work that South Asian artists have to offer.
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