5 Questions with Anisha Senaratne & Jeanne Aye Khin

Interview by Leah McIntosh

We speak to Anisha Senaratne and Jeanne Aye Khin about their newest project, Art in Colour, a web documentary series showcasing prominent ethnically diverse creatives speaking out against prejudice in the Australian arts industry.  

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What drew you to create Art in Colour?
: As People of Colour (POC) we are underrepresented in Australia’s arts industry; in particular, the commercial sector. We wanted to shine some light on that through the perspective of other POC creatives who work across a variety of disciplines to show just how widespread the issue is.

I think there are still people out there who don’t quite realise that our presence is sorely lacking in the creative sector. Hopefully after watching the series, those people will start to clock the lack of POCs in the room, on stage, or on screen when they go to their next creative event.

We also wanted to platform five awesome artists for young aspiring POC creatives to look up to. Growing up we never had creative role models we could truly identify with so in some way, it felt like the arts wasn’t for us. We want to show young POCs that the arts is an option for them and they have every right to work in this space.

Jeanne: When I first saw Anisha’s pitch for the series, I was immediately drawn to the concept. As a Person of Colour, at the time studying, and now working in a creative industry—it’s easy to feel very alone. We have to navigate mostly white creative spaces and hardly ever get the chance to collaborate with other POC and produce stories about our experiences.

I saw Art in Colour as an opportunity to amplify POC voices and stories in an industry where our experiences aren’t commonly shown in the mainstream. Some of our artists talk about the importance of representation in presenting role models, which I agree with. Hopefully this series sends a message to young People of Colour who love art that their stories matter.

What was the process behind the development of this web series? Why the medium of a web-series?

Anisha: The starting point was as simple as wanting to chat to different artists about their experiences as POCs in the Australian arts industry. I wasn’t quite sure what that looked like so when I put out a call for applications, I vaguely referred to the project as a video series. When Jeanne came on board it was her idea to take the direction of a web-series, which seemed like a natural option for a string of short videos. The beauty of a web-series as well is the option to have seasons with breaks in between to allow us to take a breath, evaluate, and readjust for the next season.

With that structure locked in, I sourced the artists! I had met Sonya and Sukhjit prior to filming and was put in touch with Sasha through a friend. The Emerging Writers Festival was incredibly supportive of the project from the start and helped us source two of their 2017 festival artists: Rajith and Kat.

Jeanne:  I thought the best delivery platform for Anisha’s initial concept would be the form of a documentary web-series. The web-series format allowed us a lot more flexibility and suited our small-scale production (with no budget) rather than opting for a traditional feature-length documentary.

I think in recent years there’s been a real boom in documentary webseries production and part of that comes from how many people you can reach with the medium. Also, a lot of people watch them! I know so many people who talk about and watch short docos on their Facebook feeds such as the SBS Viceland programming.

The style of the series was an ongoing process from our initial ideas. From a camera point of view I wanted to give it a stylised, cinematic feel. I wanted to give audiences a real sense of the artists we were working with.

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As co-creators, how have you found navigating the collaborative process? How did you meet, how did you come to work together?

Anisha: Jeanne applied for the position after seeing a post about it online in March. The material she sent through was awesome; it was really clear she had a great eye and a creative take on shooting documentary-style pieces so I was wrapped to have her on the team. The initial position description was for a videographer however, over time it has very much developed into a partnership tackling this project together.

It’s honestly been pretty smooth sailing in terms of collaboration! In the early stages of the project we had very different roles. As the producer, I was running the admin and coordination of the project while Jeanne was mostly shooting. Towards the end of the project though, we’ve worked really closely together to edit the videos down and get the final product up. We’re both so passionate about the series and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve worked so well together.

Jeanne: So I think I spent the start of this year in a bit of a creative rut having worked on projects I didn’t particularly feel enthusiastic about at the end of last year. So when I saw Anisha’s post on a Facebook filmmakers crewing group, I immediately thought, this is what I’ve been waiting for- I’d better jump on that! It was wonderful meeting Anisha given she is so passionate about social activism in the arts.

Having worked as a cinematographer for directors before on other projects, and being accustomed to the tensions of that relationship, Art in Colour has been a truly collaborative experience for me to say the least. Anisha was always really receptive of my ideas for the project and it really did become a lot more of a partnership than what I originally thought it would be.

For the Love of Good is focused on ‘instigating positive change through creative campaigns.’ How do you choose to focus on creative campaigns as a primary mode of social activism?

Anisha: The arts has incredible power to tap into people’s emotions and evoke empathy. At the end of the day, unless you can appeal to that human side of an issue, and make a person empathise with a particular situation, you won’t create action. I believe the early stages of activating social change centres around education and tapping into empathy. Once you have made a person care about an issue, then they are more likely to spread that awareness to their networks or engage in a more practical way through on the ground activism or legal/ political avenues. At For the Love of Good we try and light that spark in people to engage with an issue more deeply. We exist to shift perspectives; to challenge archaic ideologies that isolate, degrade and exclude. We hope our campaigns and projects will open minds and unclench fists. We hope to inspire, educate and liberate our viewers.

Jeanne: Art and culture have always been arenas for society to understand itself. That’s why it’s so important that creative work exists as part of the dialogue about issues of justice and rights. Culture plays such an important role in shaping the way we view the world, and most importantly, each other. That’s where creative campaigns come in; they give voice to perspectives that aren’t often shown or heard. I guess it’s a way of re-affirming humanity in the face of ideology that often dehumanises us.

You’re releasing a month of the web series; what more can we expect, after November?

Anisha: We are making a conscious effort to have a bit of break until 2018! We’ve both been juggling this series on top of work commitments, and other projects so I think a break is in order. We’re looking to come back with a second season next year though so stay tuned!

Jeanne: Yeah we’re taking a break for now, but we have so many ideas and a list of potential artists for season two next year, so I’m looking forward to that!

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EventsLeah McIntosh