"Friends, Colleagues, Honoured Guests,
It is with great sadness that I cannot be with you today.
But also with great joy that as a result of me not being with you - you get to meet one of my dearest friends. This is Beth Wong Kit Teng and she is Fucking excellent.
My name is Jivesh Parasram.
I was raised in Mi’kma’ki, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, territory of the Mi’kmaq peoples.
My family came there by way of what is now called Trinidad. Land of the Carib and Aarawak peoples.
We came there by way of….let’s call it….Colonialism… from somewhere in what is now called India – poor colonial record keeping makes it hard to know where for sure.
I am writing you from the Unceded Coast Salish Territories of the Squamish Musqueam and Tseil-Waututh peoples in what is now also called Vancouver - where I’m currently on tour and in rehearsal.
And I find it fitting that for all my displacements, these words are being read to you in T’karonto, the meeting place. Traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and Mississauga Anishinabek nations; on dish-with one spoon territory. Where we practice co-existence and community daily.
I am grateful to all of the peoples who have accepted me onto their territory.
Perhaps a little less grateful so the British who accepted my ancestors onto the territory of a British indentured labour boat. But hey, here we are.
I am also grateful for all the people who have made it possible for me to receive this award through their continued emotional support:
My family. My partner Christine the greatest person I know. To Tom Arthur Davis my non-romantic partner at Pandemic Theatre where we’ve made most of our work together – I say non-romantic but I suppose there’s a certain idealistic romantic dream to running an independent theatre company.
To my mentors, my colleagues, and my friends who are also my family.
To Beth and Marjorie for nominating me. To En Lai, for literally and metaphorically picking me up off the sidewalk when I was too sick. To my community that I have found; and today feel deeply moved and accepted into truly.
Displacement or perhaps even placeless-ness has been a constant in my life.
In thinking what to write to you today someone told me –
"Reflect on your artistic work! What’s a recurring theme?”
– and I said “I don’t know. Crippling Depression?”
The last couple projects are basically “I’m sad! Colonial Violence! Mental Illness! Hindu stuff!” repeat.
But through it all is a core of Displacement. Or maybe longing. You know, “Sad Boy” stuff…
Despite living in Toronto for over a decade, I don’t know that it’s ever felt like home. To me, it holds a transient spirit.
I never planned to stay that long. I never thought it wanted me to.
Reflecting on that, I realize it was the same for Nova Scotia. Nearly everywhere I’ve been. Displacement. Maybe it’s just me? Maybe it’s just in my cells? Maybe that’s familiar?
And yet, Toronto is where I have found the most opportunity to create. To contribute. To collaborate.
So why here?
I think it’s because I am surrounded by a community that inspires me to contribute. I make art here because I want to offer something, everything I can, to the discourse of our multi-faceted culture.
Toronto may not be my home, because, perhaps I do not have a home – but it is home to my community.
But it’s not easy. The every day.
Myself, I live with that same crippling depression that permeates my work. I am a “Mad” artist, and I hold that identity – but perhaps I do not name it enough.
Sometimes I am ill. And as much as Toronto heals me, it also can keep me, and others, ill, by not being truly inclusive in its dominant culture for those of us who are “Mad” and otherwise marginal.
We all face many problems in this city: Lack of shelter, rising costs of living, violence, isolation, and a rapid current that demands productivity.
Toronto is a wonderful place to live – if we can live here amidst the pressure.
If we can find moments of breath.
If we can think beyond the colonial cultural foundation that was laid down here as a manufacturing centre, financial hub, and slaughterhouse. Hogtown.
But these foundations are not the earth.
They may be deep, but they’re not rooted. They can break.
I believe that the purpose of art is to expand the capacity for human imagination. The cultural sector’s responsibility is to be that imaginative potential.
The playground, and training centre of imagination for its larger community
Another world is possible. But we need to collectively dream it.
And so we cannot simply accept the status quo. We need to be willing to break through that foundation. Artistically, Civically, Communally.
Now, How do we do that?
…Look, they only gave me 5 minutes! It’s an emerging artist award. I’m not that succinct! Check me back when I emerge I guess.
However we do it. We do it together.
As a community that inspires its members to be their best and insists that barriers be removed so we can all have access to the chance to be our best.
As a community that empowers its members; and one that welcomes and cares for outsiders.
That accepts placeless migratory people. Like you have done for me.
To all of you, to the city, to the land, the waterways, and to the ghosts and spirts,
Shukriya, Miigwetch, Thank you.