Diaspora Flow

Diaspora Flow is a Minnesota-based Sri Lankan American nonprofit arts organization connecting communities of color through artistic expression. We are also dedicated to supporting young artists of color in pursuing their vision as artists and activists. Our goal is to use the arts as a means for social change and to build solidarity among people of color through various mediums such as spoken word, visual and performance art, and music.

Diaspora Flow came out of conversations between two artists/activist friends, Pradeepa Jeevamanoharan and Chamindika Wanduragala, about the lack of representation of the Sri Lankan American community. This brought us to the realization that much work needs to be done in building a foundation for powerful representation and action. As we conceptualized various projects for the under represented Sri Lankan diaspora, we felt the need to connect with other communities of color to work in solidarity on issues that affect us all. We both felt the urgency of needing to do something immediately.

Our first project, Fluid Movements, came about as a way to do community building in a powerful, yet celebratory way. Between the founding of Diaspora Flow in February 2001 and our first show in April, we applied for nonprofit status, spoke with other organizations and people to get them interested in the project, and struggled to find funding. We brought together over 20 artists of color for an evening of spoken word, music, and dance. The performers included emerging and established artists/activists of color, with diversity in terms of age, race, sexuality, and class. Bringing together local and national artists allowed them to network and foster future collaboration on performances and social change work. Local grassroots-activist organizations made public service announcements between performances, encouraging the audience to participate in various actions going on in the community.

We at Diaspora Flow recognize that constructs of race and gender are fluid. The concept for the Fluid Movements project envisions an evolving dialogue between artistic voices to expand ways of thinking and percieving experiences as well as moving people towards action on the very issues facing their communities.

Our first event within the R'Lankanz project also got off the ground this year. R'Lankanz, the first ever multi-media arts event exploring the Sri Lankan American experience, took place in August, 2001, in New York City. The civil war in Sri Lanka has divided its people along ethnic lines, with the same divisions being manifested here in the U.S., continuing down to the second generation. This was a much needed collaboration between Tamil and Sinhala Sri Lankan artists committed to building solidarity along political and aesthetic lines. This groundbreaking initiative featured the artwork of Chamindika Wanduragala, Pradeepa Jeevamanoharan's choreography combining classical South Asian dance styles with contemporary movement, and the performance poetry of Marian Yalini Thambynayagam and D'Lo, whose lyrical flow connected arts and activism.

Diaspora Flow will be building on its New York connection next year by partnering with SAYA (South Asian Youth Action) to create workshops for Sri Lankan American youth. This project is still in its early stages. Outreach is being done this school year to shape the direction of the workshops based on the needs of the youth.

This corresponds to our third major program now underway in Minnesota called the Flow Crew Project. This is a series of arts/social change workshops for high school aged youth of color interested in pursuing their own vision of arts and activism. Artists performing in our shows will be conducting workshops in schools, community centers, and other spaces meeting the needs of young people of color. This fall, we are partnering with the Community Learning Program, an alternative school for youth at risk of not graduating from high school. The program's primary feature is the learning circle method pioneered by Brazilian educator Paul Freire. We will be holding weekly workshops with one of the learning circles. The youth will create interdisciplinary arts/social change projects that will culminate in a multi-media arts event coordinated by Diaspora Flow at the end of the school year. All the work done by youth count as credit to fulfill graduation requirements. The workshops will also include guest artists and fieldtrips to attend arts events and social justice actions.

At Diaspora Flow, we believe in long-term sustained development of projects to truly impact the youth. The first visiting artists at the learning circle will be here through one of our shows at Penumbra. We were asked to curate part of the Late Night Performance Series at one of the few African American theatre companies left in the nation: Penumbra Theatre Company. The racism within the mainstream South Asian community against African Americans gives a partnership like this a heightened significance. Through our programming and partnerships, we hope to show the strength in connecting with all people of color in the struggle to create social change.


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