A Conversation Between Brown Creatives Trying to Make It
Toronto-based writer, Mirusha Yogarajah, and creative, Nivake Sukumar, have a conversation on the complexities of being a “creative” and what the term means to them. They investigate the struggles of identifying as a creative as Tamil people, and sources of support, inspiration, and aspirations.
Nivake: Good evening, we sippin on that Crown Royal beloved shout out to Tax. We are here deep in downtown Toronto in an undisclosed location about to just talk about this life. And exhibiting creativity.
Mirusha: My name is Mirusha, I have no further introduction.
Nivake: My name is Nivake, aka Nivape, aka Aziz Bansari, aka pull up on your girl talk to her and run away, aka the Tamil Tyrese, aka Young Couch. We’re about to talk about how we feel about trying to be creative in the Tamil community.
Mirusha: You’re a creative.
Nivake: I don’t consider myself to be a creative actually.
Mirusha: Why, what are you standards for being a creative?
Nivake: Cause I haven’t done work that I can say that I’m proud of. Oh, actually I have, the podcast. I don’t feel like I’m putting a twist on the pod where it seems creative. You can find it on soundcloud.com/hightopflipflops for the culture. But I definitely don’t say “hey I’m a creative” and people never assume it as well. I may come up with certain ideas that are interesting but that doesn’t mean I’m a creative. I feel like I’m just being myself on the podcast, and I’m not doing much, I’m just offering some opinions. Even the shoot [for a future project], which is coming soon, I feel sort of proud thinking about the photos and having another person use their graphic design skills and flip the design. Or even writing a web series. By the way still off that Crown Royal getting the full experience of being Tamil. You wasn’t Tamil if you wasn’t in the park sipping on fine wines and beers. So when did you realize you were a creative?
Mirusha: Um, I think it was literally like two weeks ago. It was so recent. I didn’t know how to describe the work that I did but I knew that I relied a lot on the arts for my advocacy. I have always called myself a writer, but some of my advocacy work is outside of writing. I think what gave me the confidence to call myself a creative was the exceptional creative brown community in Toronto and I was like “wow, there are other people who are like me who decide to label themselves as a creative.” I also feel weird calling myself a creative because I feel like a lot of my work is linked to social justice advocacy, I don’t know what to call myself.
Nivake: So that portion of your life [Unfair and Lovely] you don’t think is creative, but something you must do?
Mirusha: It’s creativity for sure! I feel like I don’t fuck with a lot of the creative community to some degree,some of the people who consider themselves creative are highly embedded in sexism, misogyny. What made you want to be a creative?
Nivake: It’s because I hate the regular.
Mirusha: Is that the alternative to the creative, the regular?
Nivake: That’s how I see it, there’s the regular and the creative. The regular isn’t bad at all, it’s for a lot of people. The regulars know who they are when they wake up and when they fall asleep, and I can never be the regular. My regular is a suit and cubicle. Ill fitting suit because let’s be honest, a lot of you dudes still rock the ill fitting suit it’s 2016 my guy wake up. Shoutout to Moores real quick, they have fire stuff on occasion, but you gotta hit up the tailor real quick, but back to what we’re talking about. I realized at a young age, 14, 15, I couldn’t do my version of the regular. I had to figure out other paths and this is when I started listening to a lot of different music. As I mentioned earlier, in the 3rd grade, my brother put me on that 50 cent. Get Rich or Die Tryin was an important album for that time. 50 cent was a huge feminist if you listen to that album. I listened to N.E.R.D., Tyler the Creator, Bon Iver, John Mayer, I still rep John Mayer. That opened it up, especially Pharrell being a skater, rapper, designer, and never boxed in. That’s why so many people have to do 15 things at once, and we see them doing other things, and tell them to stick to the one thing they’re good at, but really they don’t wanna be boxed in and I don’t wanna be boxed in as well. Pharrell is really the reason that I feel like should do something, I like to do things. I’m at home maybe for a few hours and I like it that way, and outside I’m active. So did you ever feel, cue laughter, laughter, laughter ends, speech begins. Did you ever think wow, am I meant to go into this even though I haven’t seen a person of my color do it first?
Mirusha: Yeah, I question my decision not to do the norm every day. The biggest thing is financial security because I know my parents see me as an investment and there’s a question of whether I can return the investment and it’s probably not for a while if I do succeed in this pursuit. I think there’s also not many people who can validate our work. We are the gateway for the next generation pursuing their creative work, there’s some brown people, Aziz, Mindy, Zayn, Sid Sriram, Padma Lakshmi, A.R. Rahman —
Mirusha: Yes, of course Nav. Let’s name drop ‘em all. But you know what’s sad, we could sit here and list all of them. There’s so few of us to validate our work and so we are the key future creatives of Tamil descent. With Unfair and Lovely, and writing I’ve done on colorism, there are aunties who will say to my face “why are you out in the sun?” and I’m like have you been present? It’s so weird because that older generation is so detached from our creative work. We have Instagram and we have Twitter, and aunties don’t really. For the most part, you aren’t going to get their approval and you have to be okay with that. And that’s hard, because you want the aunties’ approval, you want them to be like “yes amma, you got it, you’re doing good in the world.” But they won’t say it because they don’t access to the work that you’re doing. But I’ve come to terms with it, and I know a lot of the reason that they want me to pursue long hair, or law school, or learning cooking, is embedded in values that I don’t necessarily agree with. And, they just want to make sure that I am financially stable because they had to go through a lot to get to where they are. Do you think us being brown hinders us?
Nivake: Of course it does, because they can’t handle us. I always felt that because only as of recent in mainstream media, it gives brown kids more hope, thinking that they can do it too.
Mirusha: I think it’s awful how our Tamil isn’t that good, so when we try to explain what we’re doing, we can’t because our Tamil is so limited. When I tried to convey that to my parents, the work that I’m doing is reduced, and the exchange isn’t present.
Nivake: What move would make you feel like you can’t do this part time?
Mirusha: I’d have to be really proud of something that I’ve produced, and that something produced a tangible impact. In terms of writing, it would be really awesome to be a writer for a media company that produces good work, like it’d be pretty bomb to write for the Fader or something. How about you?
Nivake: Well ok, if Netflix or FX hit me up and asked to get my script. Or if someone asked me to be a guest on their show or video or podcast because I liked your perspective, that wouldn’t make me do it full time, but it’ll make me lean towards the full time. Then it’s up to me to make it full time from there. I have to put this energy and work in. It’s always a possibility, in 2016, it’s always a possibility.
Mirusha: Have you ever considered dropping your university path?
Nivake: A few times, maybe first or second year, and recently as well. I have so many ideas —
Mirusha: You have a lot of ideas, you’re always texting me a damn idea.
Nivake: Probably, cause I get so inspired by a lot of things. By meeting people, by being introduced to new things, I get inspired. Meeting you, I felt inspired to be like oh man, I should be able to take things into my own hands and do things as well —
Mirusha: That’s so nice. Thank you.
Nivake: No problem. I recognize — I can see the vision in people. Especially when people say that they have something, they want to do something, I see it. And that’s why I love meeting these new people, they give me ideas. Like the photo idea, that’s just meeting someone I already knew.
Mirusha: That’s amazing, human interaction can be so awesome. So like what is your next big project idea. Come on Nivake, let’s tell the world.
Nivake: The big one, I want to do a web series, I want to do some sort of web series with someone, maybe with you.
Mirusha: I’m down.
Nivake: We can write something solid because you’ve been through so many moments that we can include in the web series. The only thing is the filming part. But yeah, that I wanna do it because I think we can do it well.
Mirusha: Do you act? Would you be in the web series. I think you have hardcore acting potential.
Nivake: That never came to mind, I always thought that my acting was temporary. Are there moments in your education when you wonder why you’re doing this?
Mirusha: Everyday. The reason why I chose public policy is because I could make tangible impact on the world. But then I think I can write this article and it would be really cool, but I can feel myself putting it off to focus on school and it just makes me really, really upset because I know I can write this article and do something with it right now, whereas this is an assignment so I can eventually get a degree and hit the job market in 2 ½ years. So it’s a time issue, as well as an enjoyment.
Mirusha: What are ways we cope with the lack of support in the creative community?
Nivake: The number one method for coping for me would be immersing myself in things that I view as creative and then that allows me to forget about needing the support of a mass amount of people even if that does include family members. I’ve learned to really appreciate the support of people I actually care about like my friends. I pitch a lot of dumb stuff to my friends and they’re still very supportive. At the same time they’ll let me know if something is wack which is tight. Whenever I’m lost or feel a lack of motivation I always turn to The Eric Andre Show which blows my mind every time I watch an episode because this man is thinking on another level of creativity. On a recent episode he had an intern dip his piece into bbq on command and I cried of laughter for damn near 10 minutes mainly because that would never happen on The Tonight Show.
Mirusha: What are some of the most fun projects? Most successful?
Nivake: The most fun project is the most recent mainly because I’ve done fun things before but I have the memory of a 6 year old so I don’t remember. The podcast is a lot of fun for myself because I’m really being myself on there and Krish is 100% himself which makes it flow well and we never run out of things to talk about. Krish is very articulate on the pod while I am peak ignorant and I like the ying and yang there. To me whatever I have fun with and thoroughly enjoy I feel like is a success regardless of the outcome. I’m eager to know what is the most fun you’ve had on a project.
Mirusha: Hmm, I’ve done a lot of random photo shoots and I am no model, but I love the artistic direction that goes behind the shoots and organizing the clothes, the background, the narrative or advocacy that we are trying to set up with the shoot. I also love just picking out backdrops and settings to contextualize people, you know? So, where do you meet other creative brown people?
Nivake: Usually at the club or a Bass Pro Shop. Okay I’m playing but I meet creatives at work. I’ve worked a lot of different jobs and there’s always one person that uses the job to support a project that they’re working on. Creatives are always friends of friends, so I’m lucky to know the people I know.
Mirusha: How do we use our projects to address issues important to you?
Nivake: An issue important to me is the lack of representation of brown people in mainstream media. When I want to work on something I realize there is always a way for me to change and still have the project turning out dope.
Tell us your experiences about being a South Asian creative/artist in the comments section. We would love to learn from y’all and have a conversation about our unique positions.