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Of The Island is a short film by Amanda Yogendran and Vidhya Manivannan that centers four young creatives of the Sinhalese, Tamil, and Burgher Sri Lankan diaspora – Ushka, Rolex Rasathy, ELSZ, and Santhya – who share their experiences of migration, culture, identity, art, and self-expression.

“I feel like I always had an alter ego,” a voice in the film’s opening scene says. This duality speaks to not only the subjects’ shared desire to honor both their individuality and culture, but to Sri Lanka’s existence as both a tropical tourist paradise and the site of a horrific and long running civil war, the aftermath of which continues to reverberate today.

The film’s stars are each given the space to discuss their distinct personal relationship to the complicated island, and how it has shaped their creative practice and world view. Through this opportunity for self-reflection and self-representation, the filmmakers hope to offer a more nuanced and multi-dimensional representation of Sri Lanka, beyond cricket, saris, and being not quite India.

OF THE ISLAND_Santhya1

Tamil Rapper M.I.A, perhaps still the only globally recognizable Sri Lankan pop culture figure, provides an anchor for the film as its subjects recount the “disbelief, joy and euphoria” they felt when they first saw her. They reflect on her efforts to draw global attention to Sri Lanka’s political situation and challenge widely held beliefs around what constitutes a “good Tamil woman.” 

She created a space in music that didn’t exist before, one that these women and many like them finally felt they could claim as their own,” Yogendran told Kajal. “For these young artists, M.I.A. was permission that they could be just as outspoken and unguarded in their own work. In this film, I illustrated the ripple effect of representation, and how today there’s a new generation of women that continue to push the boundaries of Sri Lankan/Tamil art.”

While honoring M.I.A’s legacy, Of The Island also highlights the futility of expecting a single person to effectively represent an entire nation to the world, creatively or politically.

Part of the desire to do this project was to open more space, especially for Tamil diaspora, to create more dialog about the meaning of Sri Lankan/Tamil identity — now and in the future. I want people to claim identity on their own terms and to show that it doesn’t always have to be a choice between honoring your culture or your individuality. For all the women in the film, identity is about embracing all the cultures we carry as diaspora,” says Yogendran.