Devika Ranjan grew up between 9/11 and Trump: Now she channels her story to give voice to others.
Lab Fellow Devika uses her American immigrant “fusion identity” to writes stories that express underrepresented narratives.
In my artistic practice, I aspire to make theatre that cultivates an ethos of care. When making a piece, I look at my own life, who is in my audience, and what is happening in our socio-political environment around the performance venue and draw out underrepresented narratives. Who is being treated inhumanely? Which stories dominate and which are ignored? My work names and reflects the broad strokes of injustice that we encounter in everyday life; it tells the quotidian stories of those who are resilient despite all kinds of barriers.
These stories are rooted in my own.
I came from India to the United States as a very young child and grew up travelling around the country. In each new place, I learned to perform my mongrelized Indian-American culture in a way that my American peers and teachers would understand. I spoke confident English with my parents’ unique inflections; I spread my love for Bollywood movies amongst friends; I shared my carefully packed lunchbox with my curious classmates. This fusion identity was a novel narrative to most people around me. My presence, my history, my objects, and my performances transformed me from the outsider into the next-door neighbour.
Within my artistic practice, I hope to do this duty for a wider community of underrepresented narratives. Stemming from my own history and work with individuals from worldwide conflict zones, I tell the story of the Other — the people who are too often essentialized, ignored, or otherwise marginalized. My focus is on refugees, migrants, and other nomadic peoples because migration, which is often made into a political issue, is actually deeply personal.
My current project, I Pledge Allegiance, is a devised performance that highlights the stories of American immigrants who grew up between 9/11 and Trump. While domestic audiences found it to be a timely and touching piece, the international audiences were able to relate the stories of exclusion and assimilation within their own countries. The performances sparked discussions that surmounted geographic and political barriers; it forced us to think outside of our own national consciousness and witness worldwide isolation of Others. Although the play contains the narrative of specific individuals, it — like its inspiration — can migrate, blossom, and form new meanings under varied contexts. Next, we will perform this piece in the Sudan, and I look forward to the ways in which our Khartoum audience will interpret and understand the piece within their own local frameworks.
I am interested in the ways that theatre and migration inform each other — as art and activism that co-create.
As an ethnographer, I work to holistically and responsibly record these narratives and contextualize them for a wider audience. Whether through academic writing, creative prose, or physical performance, I aspire to create a stage on which underrepresented narratives take priority — and through the Lab Fellows at the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, I have found a space and community that nurtures this political and challenging work.