interview

Q&A: Anisha Senaratne and Art in Colour

Anisha Senaratne is the founder of For the Love of Good, “a collective of passionate creatives committed to instigating positive change through creative campaigns”. Their new web series, Art in Colour, launches on 1 November, and we had a brief chat to Anisha about it all.

Can you briefly explain what Art in Colour is about, and how it came into being?

Art in Colour is a web documentary series that confronts the barriers that People of Colour (POC) face in Australia’s arts industry. The first season features 5 incredible artists based in Australia who cross a range of creative disciplines, yet all have similar experiences of prejudice and ignorance that they have faced. They all seem to share the common belief that Australia is falling short in terms of representing POCs.

As a Sri Lankan-Australian creative that has worked as an Arts Administrator and performer over the last two years, I started to clue into just how white this industry is. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be one of the few, if not only, POC in the room at arts events. I don’t think it really hit home until I performed in StageArt’s production of The Colour Purple last year, which featured a full POC cast. It was the first time I had worked so closely with other POCs on a creative project.

That sharing of experiences and frustrations was cathartic. The subtle prickle of prejudice I thought I might have experienced growing up was echoed by other cast members. That experience helped me understand the power in finding your community, and seeing people who you can genuinely relate to, doing what you love to do. I started to wonder if perhaps I had had role models in the arts, who I could identify with growing up, I would have believed it was more of an option for me, or I would have backed myself and my chances more.

So that’s how the series came to be! I wanted to give young, aspiring POC creatives role models that they could look up to in the industry. I wanted to show them that these artists share their struggles, and frustrations, but refused to let that stop them. I hope this series also opens up people’s eyes to how widespread the issue is.

The trailer talks a lot about reframing narratives, and giving ethnically diverse creatives the chance to tell their stories on their terms. How important is this, especially in today’s political and social environment?

It’s incredibly important. More often than not, when our stories are told through a white lens, we are flattened into one-dimensional stereotypes. They don’t have the lived experience to tell our stories honestly and therefore, we’re often misrepresented in the mainstream media and popular culture. That misinterpretation filters into how people treat us in the real world. There are so many people out there who don’t bother to educate themselves further or even interact with POCs to know that we are not single-story human beings. The real danger is when people who don’t have exposure to ethnic diversity, like Trump and Pauline Hanson, end up in positions of power. They characterise whole groups of people based on the mainstream stories they have heard. If these stories are misinformed (think Black aggression, Muslims and terrorism, Asians being submissive etc.),  it’s nothing but bad news for us.

We need POC storytellers to challenge these damaging perspectives and show the world that we are multifaceted and complex and our behaviour does not need to be attributed to our skin colour or ethnicity.

Furthermore, we need POC storytellers to be given more opportunities to derail the centrality of white narratives. If we are consistently being displayed as part of the fringes as opposed to central to our society, then we will always be treated as an afterthought.

For The Love of Good has also curated another project, Rewrite the Greats, which is also about challenging dominant narratives and “making space in Australia’s cultural landscape for the LGBTIQ community”. What similarities and differences have you found between these two projects, and do you think they could feed into each other, going forward?

Both projects seek to specifically address a lack of representation of marginalised groups in the arts and popular culture. Rewrite the Greats was a comment on how all well known ‘great love stories’ in literature and film almost exclusively centre around heterosexual couples. It aims to show the world’s most iconic love stories reimagined with queer couples. We wanted viewers to reconsider their definition of a ‘loving couple’ or ‘great love’ to be inclusive of the LGBTIQ community.

Both projects play into the idea of ‘seeing is believing’. You can’t begin to understand what you can’t see. For so long, the ‘norm’ in storytelling has been straight and white, leaving all else to fall under the category of ‘other’, and that is exactly how we end up getting treated, as the other/outsider.

Going forward, For the Love of Good will continue to make representation a central focus of our work. Storytelling shapes our society. From the fairytales we’re fed as kids, to the TV shows we watch as adults; storytelling shapes our views of the world. We will continue to fight for inclusive storytelling and representation knowing the impact this can have on how we are treated and valued as peoples.

What have you learned from talking to these first five creatives?

I think my biggest take away is that I’m not alone in how I feel, and I hope that’s what other young POCs take away from this as well. When you are a minority, it’s easy to question the validity of your feelings so interviewing these artists was validating and reaffirmed my doubts about Australia’s arts industry. Aside from that, I think I took away something different from each interview.

Sukhjit taught me that age is irrelevant. You’re never too young to be outspoken, and confident, and a leader in your community.

Rajith made me think about the pedestal on which we have placed the English language on and the lack of regard we afford other languages.

Sasha taught me that uni students aren’t as woke as they like to think! That even in student theatre, POCs aren’t accurately, or plentifully represented.

Sonya pointed out the effect a lack of representation has on a creative’s craft. If they are never hired, they can never improve, and so the cycle continues.

Kat taught me about the power in striking that balance between being fierce and steadfast in your beliefs and being open and willing to share those beliefs with others.

I have to say, they’re a pretty awesome bunch with a lot to learn from!

Who would be your dream interviewee(s)?

I would love to interview the Hot Brown Honey crew, and get the chance to shadow/film them for an episode. Hot Brown Honey was one of the most empowering things I have ever watched in my life. Big claim, but true.

The women in that show were so incredibly unapologetic and fierce. Despite all the disenfranchising shit that’s happening in the world, the show made me believe that being a Woman of Colour was the most powerful thing to be. I would love to find out a bit more about how the show came to be and how they got to a place where they felt comfortable being so outspoken and bold in their beliefs.

Where do you see the series going in the future?

I would love to apply for funding for a second season next year and take the series to another level. This season has been done on a shoestring budget of self funding. My incredible partner in this project, Jeanne Aye Khin, has worked her ass off, completely voluntarily, because she believes in this series. I would just love to be in a position where I could actually afford to pay her for her awesome cinematography and editing work, so funding apps are definitely on the cards for the next season.

We want to keep showing the world that there are plenty of POC creatives out there and we’re not content with being forgotten any more!

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Art in Colour launches on 1 November, 2017. Watch the full trailer here and follow them on Facebook!

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