An Interview with Poet and Illustrator — Jasmin Kaur
Women’s March Global had the opportunity to interview poet, illustrator and and spoken word artist, Jasmin Kaur during her Decolonize your Body tour that took place in Australia and the U.K. Jasmin’s work is known by many people — there is one poem that almost every activist we know has heard of — yet not many people actually know Jasmin’s full body of work. We hope that you enjoy this interview and learning more about this amazing poet as much as we did.
Uma: I know who you are because I follow your work, and I absolutely love your poetry, but can you share who you are for those people that don’t know your work, your poetry, and what you are doing?
Jasmin: My name is Jasmin Kaur. I’m a spoken word artist and illustrator and an elementary school teacher living on unceded Sto:lo First Nations Territory. That means that the land that I was born on was taken by force from the Sto:lo First Nations people and what would be now known as Canada. I think it’s just important for me to introduce myself like that because as I’m discussing decolonisation and feminism and intersectional feminist ideals, I need to really recognise my status of privilege living on indigenous land. I think that it goes all the way back to the values that intersectional feminism exposes of recognising the layers in our experiences and not just one dimension of ourselves at any given time.
I’m a spoken word artist. I am a poet. I’m currently working on a poetry collection, and I’m also teaching the 4th grade.
Why did you get into poetry as a way of sharing your voice? I mean, in terms of just confidence for young girls and women, and especially women of color, this aspect of finding our voice and having the courage given all of the forms of oppression that women of color experience, is really hard to navigate. How were you able to create, physically, the space for yourself in order to express yourself in this way?
I think that for me, the internet has been a huge resource. Social media’s been a huge resource, and being able to just express my story, I think that the stories of women of color have been so often pushed to the sides, but with social media, we’re able to have this amazing ability to just share our stories how we choose to at any given moment of any day of the week. I think that that’s been a huge asset to me as far being able to tell my own story. Part of the reason why I write and why I choose to render myself very visible through my work, as a Punjabi-Sikh woman, is because I didn’t I grow up seeing women or girls like me ever in a public space. I always felt like being together within a society that didn’t look like me. I think that all little girls deserve to see themselves in the world of women, just as a means of finding joy and survival in this world.
One of your poems that I love is known very well. “Scream so that one day…” What was the inspiration for that? Because this poem has been used by many feminists in terms of describing why they are resisting, why they are standing up at this moment in time. I would love, if you can, to just talk about your thoughts behind that.
It’s really interesting that you bring that up, because this is a piece that was very personal to my cultural experience, and it was very interesting to me how people from so many different walks of life are able to engage with this.
scream so that one day a hundred years from now another sister will not have to dry her tears wondering where in history she lost her voice.
— jasmin kaur
This poem, it was actually inspired by a specific reflection I was having, just in the way that so much of my own history as a Sikh was being captured by men. I haven’t been able to read a lot of primary historical documents written from the perspective of women, and when I wrote this poem, it was about that absence of the voices of Sikh women, and me just wondering what the world would have been like if history was told from the perspective of my women. Thinking about myself in the present, knowing that the work that I do, it could be changing the world for some woman that lives a century away from me without even me realising. I feel like no other girls have wondered what the past of women was like the way that I had to wonder that.
A lot of your poetry has to do with this idea of returning power to the people whose power has been physically taken away. Can you talk about that a little bit more?
A lot of my work is influenced by the oppressive experiences that my people have experienced back home in Punjab. A lot of my poetry deals with political oppression, and I think that as it really stems from my own personal lived experience with the oppression that I’ve dealt with growing up, just as girl, in the society that I live in. I think that when you felt personal oppression, for example being told that you can’t do something because you’re a girl, or being told that certain things are for boys, certain things are for girls. I think that when you grow up in that experience of knowing what it’s like to be marginalised at that individual level, political oppression also comes into context as well, more easily, and that’s been my case.
A lot of my work ends up addressing the way that power is taken away from people of so many backgrounds, whether it’s because of our status as women or because of my identity as a Sikh. Because of the fact that I live as a Sikh, a visible Sikh, in a western society, it’s becoming increasingly untrusting or unwelcoming of the other. There are all these different layers of oppression that I’ve witnessed, dealt with, walked through, and I think that having been through those experiences, it only makes sense for me to use any means that I have, especially in my art, to be able to bring power back to those people who have had it taken away from them.
You are on, right now, a tour of this event called, “Decolonize Your Body.” Can you speak to what this event is about because just even those three words, “Decolonize your Body,” are so incredibly powerful? What is it that you are conveying and hoping to impress upon the people that are attending these events?
To paraphrase a poem by Rupi Kaur, I think that bodies of women become battlegrounds in so many different ways, whether personally or politically. I think that for us to call this event, “Decolonize Your Body,” is to recognise the way that colonial violence, Eurocentric beauty standards and colonial and state oppression, affects the physical form of us as women. Our minds, as women. Our hearts, as women.
It’s a very visceral kind of violence that we internalize in all these different ways, whether it’s from expectations around lightness in our skin or not looking like ourselves in favor of a body that’s more normalised by Eurocentric feminine beauty standards. Or the fact that in a very serious way the bodies of women have been battlegrounds as far being assaulted, facing physical brutality and violence through systems of oppression that use us, as women, as pawns for their own larger political gain. To call this event, “Decolonize Your Body,” is to take back our bodies, take back our minds, take back our hearts from these systems that have been never there for us.
This idea of creating awareness for women and how we are colonized, how our bodies are colonized, how our thoughts are colonized and our minds — what you’re doing is planting a seed and shining a light, which is absolutely incredible and necessary. Thank you for your work, for sharing your time and talking with us.