Documenting Determination

“Women’s empowerment is having complete control over your own body, voice and spirit. I think so many of the [social and political] structures and systems, not only as a nation, but also within our families and different cultural/racial communities…There are things in place that have prevented a lot of women from having full complete control over their identity, and using their own voice. So for me it’s very much about recovering, unearthing and reclaiming our possession over ourselves as a whole.”
~Nayani Thiyagarajah

Lights, camera, action! Too cliche? Well, we’re determined to make sure this post is a clear document of… Documenting Determination! Ready for the weekly she.lace somewhat abstract yet highly motivational (we hope,😉) statement? Here it goes: EVERYONE’S life is a documentary! Granted, not everyone has a fully produced biopic that graces the screens of theatres, TVs and smartphones (we’re calling it into existence now… There will be a “Straight Outta she.lace” feature film in the future). And that is absolutely fine… A biography documents an individual(s) life (or selected portion), but the two aren’t necessarily mutually inclusive. In other words, a documentary doesn’t have to be understood as only a biography or autobiography. This is an important distinction to understand because we at she.lace believe everyone is not simply part of a documentary… But are documenters as well. How? Well, our innate observational skills (along with our sense of reasoning as it develops: morality, inductive, deductive etc.) allow us to absorb our surroundings/environments and influences our early outlook on things. No, no we’re not trying to stir up a nature versus nurture debate. We’re saying that we observe, absorb, comprehend… and this has an impact. So, we believe it’s fair to state that we’re all documenters living in a documentary. Some of us just choose to elevate that documenting determination to a visible level. We hope our audience likes our film!

shelace.com is a documentary! By default we suppose that would make us documenters. Let it be explicitly stated… We have the ABSOLUTE pleasure of documenting some of the most captivating stories by trailblazing women who are nothing short of awe-inspiring. So, now that we’ve dubbed ourselves as “documenters” we run the risk of being “exposed” as only “acting” as such. Well, this week we’re on set with a “reel” documenter and she definitely directed us properly:

                                                          “Documenting Determination”
                                                                    Call Sheet #1 7/15/17

Call Time: 1pm EDT
Make up call time: N/A
Wardrobe call time: N/A
Location: Kensington Market Toronto, ON

WEATHER:  
Sunny with clear skies
High 28 C
Pressure: 101.6 kPa
Wind: NW 20km/h
Humidex: 32
Humidity: 60%
Visibility: 30km
Director/Producer: Nayani Thiyagarajah
1st AD: Travis Pereira
Director of Photography: she.lace
Executive Producers: Jamila Husbands & Kiah Welsh
Estimated Wrap: “None, so long as we’re alive and well…”

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“Roll cameras, roll playback… Action!” Ironically there’s no acting, per se, involved but there is a top-notch director/producer in the throng of things. You notice that wonderfully cultured name above ⬆️? Being the culturally sensitive and inquisitive group we are the first thing we did this week was humble ourselves, take a “knee”… and ask for the correct pronunciation:

When we were looking at your name we noticed that the phonetics is vastly different than the actual spelling, so spell it for us and tell us how often people mispronounce your name?

Nayani: My first name is N-A-Y-A-N-I  and it’s pronounced “nine-knee” like 9 and knee together, 9 as in the number nine and knee as in your knee. But I grew up and people would constantly say “Nai-any” all the time and I never corrected them because I think you just get used to people anglicizing your name. And around when I was 21 or 22, I thought I’m actually going to tell everyone to say my name properly. So, it took a long time for my old friends to start saying my name properly but new people caught on quickly. And as long as say it’s like “9” and “knee” it’s easy to remember because it’s like word association.

 

 

Rest assure, Nayani is as unique as her beautiful name and is proud of the Tamil culture it was birthed from. In last week’s post Heiress to Progression we encouraged everyone to be aware of their inheritance. The theme adjoined to that was being cognizant of where, and from whom, this inheritance came from… For better or worse. But, we expressed our belief that there was no “worse” in knowing this… Only “better” and the appreciation of the empowerment that comes from this knowledge. Well, just in case you thought we were just spewing some unfounded idea that sounds nice but isn’t a feasible motto to live by… We brought some “documents” to prove otherwise. It’s not too often an individual can understand, recognize, appreciate and respect their inheritance and turn it into their life’s calling. We’ll say it happens about as often as someone pronouncing “Nayani” correct on the first attempt, unassisted. From the unyielding smile, to the culturally significant tattoos, to an extension and continuation of her family members interrupted passions… Documenting a story coming full-circle is always an amazing sight. But, what else would you expect from a visionary?! Enjoy the Q&A below and truly take a look through the “lens” of a determined documenter:

Speak to us about your heritage and how that influences who you are, and how you go about being the person who you are.

Nayani: Yes, my parents are Tamil and they came here [Canada] as refugees from Sri Lanka in 1985/1986 and that definitely impacted who I am. It impacts my politics, and it impacts how I look at storytelling. When they had to leave as refugees they left with nothing. I’ve never seen photographs of my dad when he was a kid and I have no idea about his life there other than what they tell me in oral storytelling tradition. And so for me my work as an artist, a storyteller and a filmmaker is very much keeping that tradition alive of oral storytelling but then putting it on camera so we have visuals to go with it….Also in the midst of the war in their country, the part where we come from, they burned down the central library for the North. So, a lot of the archives of Tamil people and our history in Sri Lanka is gone forever. So for me my work is about preserving what we have now.

 

 

That’s such an interesting juxtaposition and we’re glad you segued into your work. Explain what you do as a “9-5”, your profession and what your passion is. And let us know if there’s an overlap between the two, how do they inform who you are?

Nayani: My profession, or my dream career that I love, is filmmaking and television as well… mostly narrative and scripted. But, as my day job I work at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation on and off, between my film work, as a producer and a visual researcher. Actually, it’s the first time in my entire career that my “day job” is in alignment, in some way, with my dream and my path. It’s the first time I’m working in the screen industry both personally and professionally. I feel like this year has been a nice alignment and affirmation of the convergence of both my dream and my day-to-day because they’re balancing and complementing each other for the first time ever.

You mentioned some of the trials, tribulations and hardships your parents had to go through to even be able to call Canada home. And one of the things you mentioned was that they were robbed of the opportunity to document their lives through film and photography. As luck, or fortune, would have it you’re exactly that…a filmmaker. How is that empowering both as a female and in terms of being able to tell the untold stories of your family?

Nayani: My first memory of a camera is my dad. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, we had nothing [chuckles] we lived in the “hood”. But my dad invested in a really basic Canon camera. My dad photographed everything. There are pictures of everyone’s birthday parties, and lots of me and my brother growing up. It was almost an obsession on his part, and I don’t think I realized until I got older and I saw how many photos there were. My aunts and uncles all did the same thing, mostly my uncles and then I realized that a lot of the documenting was being done by the men in our family. I think just because of the way things are structured and who gets to tell what stories. For me as a woman to document stories I think I come from a culture, like many others, were women experience a lot of silencing within the family, within the community and within the larger society. I think for me doing filmmaking and any kind of video production or storytelling work is about reclaiming my voice, but also ending a cycle of silence that I think my mother and my grandmother and generations before them have experienced. That’s why I really love filmmakers like Julie Dash and Ava DuVernay because they’re women telling stories about their own communities. [They’re] also speaking about their communities from their specific viewpoint, and I think that needs to happen a lot more for Black, Indigenous and other women of colour.

 

 

You mentioned your culture and how it has influenced everything about you…explain your tattoos and the meaning behind them.

Nayani: I got one of the tattoos in 2012, just after New Years. In Tamil, there are multiple words for love – unlike the English language – I picked the word “Anbu” it means unconditional love. And I also wanted a tattoo of a circle because I believe a circle is representative of people always growing whole continuously through their lives. The tattoo artist suggested I put the circle on top of the word to symbolize continuously growing within the context of unconditional love, and that became the tattoo on my right wrist. The tattoos across my chest are an ancient Tamil proverb which means “there’s no downward journey for those who keep trying”. And on my left wrist is the Tamil word for “everywhere”  just to remind myself that I can go anywhere I want to, and do anything and everything I want to. I picked Tamil words that mean something significant to me because it’s also a way of preserving and reclaiming our language. For me my body, and all the Tamil people living in diaspora and at home, are living proof that we’re still here. Anything I can do to represent that we’re here in our full culture – and the different versions we’ve created and crafted – is really important to me.

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So, what does women’s empowerment look like to you?

Nayani: Women’s empowerment is having complete control over your own body, voice and spirit. I think so many of the [social and political] structures and systems, not only as a nation, but also within our families and different cultural and racial communities. There are things in place that have prevented a lot of women from having full complete control over their identity, and using their own voice. For me it’s very much about recovering, unearthing and reclaiming our possession over ourselves as a whole.

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What do you think of she.lace using this platform as a way to shine a light on women’s empowerment?

Nayani: I think it’s dope! As I was growing up, especially in this city, all the women I grew up with–not me, I was late to it [chuckles] – have been rocking sneakers. I just think if we could document women doing anything that everyone else is doing, that is crucial. We’re kind of fed these ideas that women have to wear heels or women have to wear this kind of an outfit. And it’s not necessarily always a bad thing, I think heels are beautiful too but I feel that anytime we can reclaim things that have been suggested aren’t for us…I think that’s really powerful. When it comes to reclaiming your power there are bits and pieces to it, and if women can do that by wearing sneakers…why not?

When you are busy documenting and chronicling life through your filmmaking what sneakers do you wear?

Nayani: I wear flats or sneakers. I love Keds and Air Max’s, which I’m wearing now. I have a dream that one day I’ll get a sponsorship from Keds or Converse so I can rock them on set, that would be great. They’re just the most functional and allow me to still look cute, but still do what I gotta do. There are incredible women out there, and men, who wear heels on set – but I’m not the kind of person who can walk around on set doing that…nope [chuckles].

Keds, you heard it here..endorsement [Nayani laughs]! We noticed you changed the laces on your beloved Air Max 90, and they’re very sparkly and glittery. Some might suggest that it’s almost a personification of who you’re as a person, bright and glittery. What do those laces mean to you?

Nayani: Well, the first part of it is that my white laces just got way too dirty and I had these sitting around from last year Caribana. I love things that sparkle…me and my friend Camaro, who’s my producing partner, always say we believe that everybody is made of “stardust”. If you look at science, we’re made of the same matter as the stars. So for me, sparkles and glitter reflect that the universe is within us and we’re within it. I love anything to do with sparkles!

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Being a filmmaker, you mentioned you have a little bit of trepidation of being in front of the camera if it’s for photos. You don’t mind interviews, audio or video, but you don’t like photos so why did you decide to model for she.lace?

Nayani: I’m always trying to push my own boundaries. I grew up doing theatre and I was a dancer for a long time, so I’m completely comfortable in movement and storytelling through my body. But, for some reason standing still for a photograph is really uncomfortable for me. I think it’s also because it took a long time for me to really feel comfortable, being a thicker and bigger woman, and at peace with my body. Over the last few years I’ve really been trying to push myself because I know that still lingers, so I’ve been pushing against the boundaries that I’ve created for myself. I know I can be in front of a camera and be beautiful in all my complexity and that’s okay. People deserve to see all representations and I deserve to see myself…I want to create space for people who look like me.

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Did she.lace give you an opportunity to do that?

Nayani: Yeah, you gave me a chance to be comfortable in my discomfort…and smile and laugh, and be present in my body. That’s important to me, so you guys have helped me on my journey of loving myself.

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We dare say that it’s an inherent force that guides “Stardust” down the path she’s taking. These are the kind of powerful insights that should be quoted in a she.lace MARKETing class. Not any class though… one specifically engineered to help people become an extension of their family and culture. So, where does she.lace take such a beautiful and diverse soul? To a beautiful and diverse Toronto “alcove”.

 

 


The one and only Kensington Market! To be completely fair, it’s much too large to be described as an alcove. But, it is certainly a cultural oasis. No frills yet top quality, a sense of community within the centre of a metropolis… The simplest way we can capture this complex place. Definition time, what is a market? Oxford defines a market as: A regular gathering of people for the purchase and sale of provisions, livestock, and other commodities. So, that’s how to explain the physical elements and common activity of a market.

However, in order to understand Kensington Market you have to interpret it as a marketplace: any sphere considered as a place where ideas, thoughts and artistic creations are exchanged. This place is more than the vending stands, the quirky thrift shops, the colourful graffiti, the anti-establishment art installations, the obscure hidden alleyways with Victorian houses, the pro-legalization marijuana establishments and global cuisine. It’s the buskers on every corner, entire roads devoted to only pedestrian traffic (once a month), it’s high value for low cost, it’s a meeting grounds for the international community, it’s a hub for small-town aura in a big city setting. BlogTO provides an “A-Z” breakdown of all the attractions in Kensington, and really illustrates how this “market” is easily one of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods. Interested in discovering Toronto’s most eclectic mix of people, sights, sounds and food? Well, plan a trip downtown and plant yourself west of Spadina St., north of Dundas Ave., east of Augusta Ave., south of College St…and get ready for sensory satisfaction.

Sidenote: In 2015 the City of Toronto commenced a study that proposed Kensington Market gain the status, and protection, of a Heritage Conservation District (HCD)

In Kensington what you see is what you get, especially when Nayani and she.lace are running around documenting moments. Revolutionary woman, transparent market… What could the sneakers of choice be?

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The sneaker with the transparent air unit that revolutionized the game (particularly for comfort and performance), works for us. Well to be completely fair this was the third sneaker with NikeAir technology that did, arguably, what the above line suggests. But, hey…perhaps the “third time’s the charm” just like the original name of the Air Max 90: Air Max III. Listen, we’re definitely NOT going to get caught up with the very futile discussion of which Air Max (silhouette, model, or colour) is the holy grail of the series. Instead we’ll let Nike’s The Evolution of Visible Air article have the legendary creators/designers themselves explain where the Air Max 90 lands on the strata of air unit evolution. From the competitive feet of athletes, to stylish outfits of urban streetwear trendsetters…to being on the filmmaking sets of an inspirational female proliferating herself and her culture. Perhaps this is why the sneaker has garnered the status of icon.  

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Documenting Determination! It’s more than a clever alLITeration… It’s a practical message that we hope we’re delivering effectively. Better yet, it’s a full fledged film production and we hope you’re enjoying the screening. Nayani’s life journey is a story that would make any script writer jump with excitement. It’s a special kind of fulfillment when your life’s work can celebrate a culture you love whilst challenging it at the same time (she.lace can certainly relate). A young and independent Sri Lankan Tamil woman enjoying a career that her culture traditionally reserves for men only. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an extension of a passion for the arts her father shared but couldn’t fully enjoy. Truly empowering! Now your narrative may not be as compelling as the next, but it’s still yours. Furthermore, you’re a documenter… The story you tell doesn’t have to be a biography. After all, what could be more gratifying than having documenting determination and sharing an inspirational, informative and entertaining story with the world? Your life is a documentary… Don’t be afraid to let others live and learn vicariously through your work. Make sure you have on some fly sneakers while you document!

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