An Ambassador for the 2021 B.C. Culture Days, Alyssa Amarshi is an artist, creative director and activist for inclusivity in the arts. Through her collective, Her Tribal Roots, Amarshi is championing diversity and the importance of creating opportunities for artists from all walks of life, allowing them to express themselves without any barriers or discrimination.
Her Tribal Roots, a collective that was created organically with her friends and colleagues through their shared passion of art, is one of Amarshi’s biggest accomplishments to date.
“It has been through many beautiful iterations and transitions, but the current list of co-creators and artistic collaborators are myself, Tawahum Bige, Ariane Custodio, Marisa Gold, Orin T McRey, Natasha Gayle, Jean David (JD) Muco, Katie (Kt) Karjala) and Chelsea (Franz the Poet) Franz. We try to embody and champion empathy, emergence, symbiosis and community care through our artistry,” she says.
Amarshi recalls that she always had an innate desire to move and express herself through art. She created dances and shows for her family members despite not being trained or enrolled in any dance classes. She was more concerned with the feeling associated with moving instead of the technique or people’s perception.
Dance provided a safe haven for Amarshi from a young age. Amarshi grew up during the time of GeoCities and she had pressured her cousins to create a webpage on it for her dance performances. Amarshi was only ten years old and hadn’t even stepped into the dance studio yet.
However, Amarshi notes there was a period of time where this passion for dance was lost in favor of academic pursuits. She decided it was not possible to pursue this passion as a career; for the majority of her young adulthood Amarshi thought that her dance and self-expression would be confined to a hobby and nothing more. Yet her passion never truly faded, it simply blended with other goals. Dance was always her safe haven, but her perception of it evolved.
When she started learning Bollywood and other dance forms, she realized that the cultural component of the dance is the most important part of any form. Without understanding the relationship between cultural beliefs and dance moves, a dancer she says can never appreciate the full extent of the dance step.
Amarshi noted that possessing different roles in the arts industry has allowed her to see how multi-faceted the industry really is, including unforeseen challenges.
“I wish I could spend less time on administration, marketing and all the other logistics, and instead spend more time engaged in the process of art, and dance and play in community.”
Yet she remains anchored to her personal haven, movement and art.
“[I wish] to spend more time embodied in movement and art over everything else,” she states with simplicity.
When discussing the topic of discrimination, Amarshi notes that systems or institutions have been designed to discriminate against people who belong to certain groups– engrained discrimination as Amarshi describes it.
“I think my biggest challenge is simply feeling worthy in my artistry,” she shares. “I have often felt simultaneously too much and not enough, especially when it comes to my ethnic identity. I have felt both tokenized and looked over.”
Amarshi feels many people can sympathize with her struggle to feel confident and safe in her industry.
“I have felt the pressure to exploit my trauma and identity in my work to gain opportunities, and there have been times when I felt like I missed out on opportunities because I did not market myself as ‘marginalized’ enough or ‘traumatized’ enough,” she says.
Amarshi says COVID-19 has allowed her to rethink her priorities and reconnect with nature. Her collective met outside during the lockdown due to health orders, thus she was able to learn a lot more about symbiosis and interconnectivity. With mental health a major concern of the pandemic, her collective thought it was important to value wellbeing before productivity.
“[I] realized how important and necessary and sacred rest really is,” she says.
Amarshi sums up her two pieces of advice to aspiring artists and to her younger self:
“Remember that you are so worthy of expression and your expression is so worthy of being witnessed… Breathe. And also remember change is the only constant.”
To catch Alyssa Amarshi at B.C. Culture Days, please visit www.culturedays.ca/en/bc/2021bcambassadors