- Words Josephine Amstad
Meet multi-disciplinary Canadian artist, Vivek Shraya, who has arguably perfected the art of storytelling through her work.
Musician, model, author, playwright, visual artist, brand ambassador, film, and theatre star – those are just a few of the titles Canadian artist Vivek Shraya has amassed throughout her 20-year career. Blessed with the ability to harness her voice and project her message through any medium of her choosing, Vivek Shraya has perfected the art of storytelling.
As if this was not impressive enough, Vivek has also created an award-winning publication imprint, V.S. books, that mentors and champions BIPOC writers and is an assistant professor for Creative Writing at the University of Calgary.
As a trans woman of colour, her art – spanning poetry, prose, music, photography and film – often explores life through this lens, transforming past trauma into art. In saying this, Vivek Shraya continues to negotiate her relationship to her art – and the motivations behind creating it – having examined the commodification of trauma against marginalised bodies through her project Trauma Clown.
Vivek Shraya chats to Notion about the importance of art in her life, the genesis of her musical career, her debut play How to Fail as a Popstar and what’s next for this electrifying talent.
You truly are a prolific multidisciplinary artist. Could you talk about why the creation of art has been so pivotal in your life?
Making art, the process of trying to take an idea and realize it into something tangible, and hopefully meaningful, gives me a sense of purpose, a reason to wake up in the morning.
You started your career as a musician. Can you tell us about your musical journey and why making music is important to you?
I think because I was silenced in my childhood, due to relentless homophobia, I found a different (and safer) way to use my voice and express myself. It’s been a strange and painful journey trying to turn something I love, namely music, into a career, particularly because my music hasn’t resonated with audiences widely. But music is the love of my life, so I am committed to it, to keep making it and sharing it.
Your latest musical release, “I’m A Fag 4 U” Remixes are from your debut play ‘How to Fail as a Popstar’. Can you tell us a bit more about the play and what inspired you to write it?
The play highlights my music journey and I wrote it to acknowledge both the truth of my ambitions and my failure. I had never really vocalized that I wanted to be a popstar, despite working towards this dream for over a decade, and culturally we always buy into the idea that working hard equals success and this is a lie. For every person who works hard at their dream and achieves it, there are thousands of us who also work hard and don’t succeed. And I think we need anti-success stories to remind us of this.
As it was your first play, were there any challenges that arose from the form?
I think the biggest challenge was my ludicrous expectation that because I’m a performer, I could just waltz into theatre, no biggie. But theatre, of course, is an extremely rigorous practice–memorizing a 80 min show with songs and choreography was arduous in and of itself–perhaps the most rigorous medium I have engaged with!
Do you feel as though writing has offered you a platform for storytelling that was not afforded to you through music?
Absolutely. While I did tell stories in my early songs, they were largely about love and longing and I never would have described myself as a storyteller. Writing my first book, God Loves Hair, made me realize there was so much I wanted to say and so much I couldn’t say in a three minute pop song (although now, it’s been exciting to bring those storytelling skills to my newer music!)
Your project ‘Trauma Clown’ explored how for marginalised artists success and value is often intrinsically linked to suffering. As an artist and a trans person of colour how have you navigated this pressure to create work that fits into a certain profile?
‘Trauma Clown’ was a useful project for me because I was able to finally articulate to myself this pressure that I felt but didn’t always voice or even map out as a pattern. Now, when I am assessing the motivation behind a work, as I usually do, I try to dig a little deeper by asking myself: Why are you telling this story? For whom? To please or appease whom?
You created the award-winning publishing imprint V.S that amplifies emerging BIPOC voices and runs a mentorship programme. When did you realize you had to create V.S and why did you feel it was important to do so?
In my work with BIPOC youth, the number one question I always get is “how do you get published?” I realized in 2017 that I wanted to offer more than just mentorship, that if I could work closely with an emerging writer on their writing and then they could end up with something tangible, a book, that this would support the writer even more. VS. Books sprung from this desire.
How has the past year and pandemic affected your creative process?
I’ve really learned that I can’t just be at home creating, that creating actually requires the other parts of my job–touring, engaging with audiences and other artists–to be inspired. And I really miss collaborating with other artists (in real life).
Is there anything exciting planned on the horizon? What’s next for Vivek Shraya?
I have a new book of non-fiction coming out in January 2022 that explores reinvention, called People Change.
And finally, where’s your happy place?
At home. Napping. Or eating a cheese bun. Or the moments after I have written a new song. Or someone saying they connected with my art.