Artivism w/ Sundeep

Identity and activism have gone hand in hand ever since the Civil Rights Movement. Women of color like Shirley Chisolm and Yuri Kochiyama made strides for all people by blazing political trails for feminists and allies. Today, we have leaders like Malala Yousafzai, Tara Janeen, and Indya Moore that are continuing to fight the good fight so that all women whether trans, disabled, Asian, brown, or black can be treated with respect. Walking beside them on that same trail are the artists that capture our strifes in order to remind us of our progress as well as the work that still needs to be done. Artivist and author, Sundeep Morrison has combined her passion for theatre with bringing awareness to the struggles and triumphs of the Sikh community.

Ironically, or rather perfectly, I met Morrison at a #BeautyconPop event in West L.A. She came over to sit in a seat next to me and within seconds we started introducing ourselves and sharing our interests. It’s as if I already knew before she spoke that we were on the same wave, about almost everything. She’s a makeup lover, of course, but also has a comforting awareness of herself and of anyone in her presence. I knew I had to get more moments of her time, on a bit of a more official note, so that I could really learn about who she is as a person. So, over a salad and I think some coffee, at Paper or Plastik, she began sharing the impact of the Sikh community on America and vice versa.

“We’re the fifth largest religion in the world and we’ve been in America for over 100 years.” Morrison stars in her very own, one woman play inspired by the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. She shared that her brother called her after the attack asking if she’d spoken to their father and mother, concerned that they’d gone to fellowship with the congregation. Hours later, her parents reached out to assure her that they were safe, but to also share that a relative had been killed. “I felt helpless, angry and scared and then...my acting became my vehicle.” Morrison started therapeutically writing seven monologues representing characters that she wanted to portray and celebrate.

Now a one-woman play, “Raghead” has become a critically-acclaimed show.  “It discusses hate, hope and American identity. I figure if I can break their hearts then maybe I can change their minds.” While, for Sikhs, turbans are articles of faith, their community has been forced to endure numerous hate crimes despite a long history in America. Morrison also shared that some members of her family have even gone so far as to cut their hair so that they are not as much of a visible minority. However, visibility has proven to be what not only what perpetuates hate, but what heals it too.

In addition to her play, the queer, Sikh-artivist mother of two and wife aims to shed light on all marginalized issues through her podcast “Deep Talks”. Morrison has also written a book, part manual and part memoir, dedicated to her daughter titled “LadyBitchWhore”. Through these modes of media and performance, she’s also proving that Sikhs nor women need to exist in one archetype. Race, gender and sexuality play significant roles in Morrison’s work and, concurrently, in her identity. By ripping the bandaid off of the tumultuous history between non-POC and people of color in America, artists like Morrison are creating a world where we can be seen and heard.

Ashley Nash