An Interview with Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa

Can you explain what inspired the South Asian Women’s Stories project? 
I met some cool gals in NYC who ran a project for South Asian women that culminated in a night of powerful honest monologues. We ranted about how South Asian women get categorised into the same shade: henna elephant bindi arranged marriage exotic Bollywood dancers. I’m sick of those stereotypes and how TV shows keep perpetuating a very boring and lazy one-dimensional surface level representation of my people. Within South Asia (like everywhere else in the world) there is complexities and diversity and nuances and over several hundred languages and dialects. So I decided to bring that project to Perth with Centre for Stories to create a workshop series where South Asian women can self-identify and determine what makes them who they are today.

A group of women with South Asian heritage sitting together and sharing stories.

You’ve been sharing stories of growing up Sikh in Australia for some time. How does this project intersect with that?
I have a passion for storytelling and have been touring around the world sharing my story. This practice has helped me in my personal life, how to be more direct, clear, articulate and honest. It’s refined my communication skills to the point where I want to share those skills with others. I want other people, women in particular, to also feel the impact of creative expression and how it can enhance our every day lives. How it can build confidence to have difficult conversations and build a more open society.

Can you briefly share one story that has emerged from the project?
I don’t think I’ve been part of a project that has had such a diverse (intergenerational, cultural, religious) array of people from South Asia!

The storytellers are from Afghani, Indian/Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Kenyan/Indian, Malaysian/Indian, Irish/Gujarati backgrounds, South African Indian, Sindhi Punjabi. Their ages range from 19-60. The content their stories are unveiling are: mental health and the stigma in the community, migrating to New Zealand and Australia in the 80s and the community that was built, tensions and racism within the Tamil/Singelese communities (forbidden love), love-marriage versus arranged marriage and the modern day Perth battles of finding love within the community, not feeling loved by family but then learning that love is in the action, travelling back to India to get in touch with roots and learning about resilience and strength.

Sisonke Msimang speaking to a group of women for the South Asian Women's Project

Two women in a conversation together while enjoying tea and coffee. Behind them is a colourful bookshelf, a typewriter and a collection of suitcases.

What has the response been from the participants and what have they learned?
I love working with people from non-performer backgrounds and introducing creative expression to those that have never had the opportunity which is why this workshop series has been so special. Participants have found a sense of community and shared shorthand of their experiences being South Asian women! The participants went through some beginner storytelling training with Sisonke Msimang and learnt the power of story arcs, how to keep audiences engaged and what details to keep and omit. We are now in the performance training with Shirley van Sanden where we are working through oral techniques to be aware of our bodies, gestures and voice.

When can people outside South Asian Women’s Stories hear about it in greater detail?
The performance will be part of Winter Nights at The Blue Room Theatre in July. Details coming soon.

A group of women of South Asian heritage sitting together as part of the South Asian Women's Stories project. They are sitting comfortably and relaxed as they listen to a person speak.

 


Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa is a spoken word artist, editor and activist. Sukhjit is passionate about diversity and the importance of visibility in the performing arts and inherently merges her advocacy background with the arts. Her work predominantly provokes conversations around Australian identity, feminism, cultural confusions, and the power of uncomfortable conversations. Sukhjit is currently co-commissioned to write and perform ‘Fully Sikh’ with Barking Gecko Theatre Company and Black Swan State Theatre Company in Western Australia for their 2019 season.

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