Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa
What an honour it is for us to have Sukhjit grace her presence on the blog! This woman is a BOSS.
Sukhjit is a spoken word artist from Australia, who got the attention of the Australian nation when she performed a spoken word piece on the topic of racism and bigotry on Australia's Got Talent (link to the performance is at the end of this interview). To say we were super proud watching her performance is an understatement. Sukhjit lit up the stage with her bright energy and bold nature, and wowed the judges as well as audiences around the world.
A year or so prior to her performance, Sukhjit actually contacted us on Facebook (after reading a fellow featured artist's interview) and told us she appreciated our blog. We are grateful for the support Sukhjit; but girl, you are incredibly inspirational and we appreciate what you do way more!
We are thankful for the truth that you speak. We are grateful that you share the experiences of people of colour through your spoken word.
Thank you for being unapologetically YOU.
Tell us about Sukhjit
Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa is a first generation Australian Sikh, spoken word artist, educator, performer & human rights reformer based in Melbourne. Sukhjit is passionate about diversity and the importance of visibility in the performing arts and inherently merges her advocacy background with the arts. Her work predominantly provokes conversations around Australian identity, feminism, cultural confusions and the power of uncomfortable conversations.
Within a short period, Sukhjit has gone from performing at the Opera House for the Australian Poetry Slam Competition in 2014 to performing on national television for Australia’s Got Talent, and most recently was a speaker at TedxUWA. She has shared the stage with renowned artists such as Missy Higgins and L-Fresh the Lion and her performances and workshops have led her to tour USA, Canada, UK and South East Asia, and Australia.
What challenges do you face on a day-to- day basis or have you faced in your line of work?
Most of my gigs have been quite scary because of the audiences I face. Not only does my job require me to be vulnerable but it's also very solo-orientated, so it can get challenging when my inner monologue on stage is to cry in a corner or run away when that heckler starts to heckle. When those faces of shock and confusion are staring back at me. Spoken word is so raw and so stripped down to the relationship between me, the microphone and my audience. There's nothing to hide behind.
School kids are also challenging but hilarious. They're so honest so you really can't bullshit around them. You can't fake it. You gotta be real.
Navigating the media can also be difficult. To be represented and be in control of your own story is hard when the media has it's own agenda. If I get asked to juxtapose my "modern Aussie life" with my "traditonal Sikh upbringing" somebody gonna get hurt reeeal bad haha!
But I think the biggest challenge is my own Sikh (male) community. The online hate. The sleazy messages. The hidden camera photos when I'm walking down the street. The judgement. The suffocation.
And I guess dealing with men in general is a big challenge in my work as I'm proposing a lot of ideas that might come across as confronting or alternative to the "good Punjabi girl", whatever that means.
If you had to, what would you get tattooed on your forehead, aka what’s your motto?
Judge me. I dare you.
How do you stay motivated?
When you're one of few full-time Sikh artists in Australia, it's doesn't take long to realise that if you don't step up and represent/speak up/share your art, it doesn't seem likely that others are going to see this path as an option. Leading by example is the key. I'm not saying that this isn't an exhausting role to play full of immense pressure and doubt, but there's this drive within me that knows I just can't give up on this dream. So that we can switch on our TV's (or 3D TV's in the future) and movie screens and magazines and see more representation of diverse faces and genders. To see more female bosses.
What makes you feel good?
Cooking, hearty food, live music, breathing beach air or mountain air, laughing till I cry, crying every week to let out all those emotions, communicating honestly, young people and their ideas, singing/listening to Kirtan, being vulnerable and allowing others to be vulnerable, making other's feel comfortable to speak their minds/live their dreams/be real.
What’s been your greatest struggle, and how do you generally overcome negative emotions?
I think I'm currently going through my greatest struggle. Trying to overcome the darkness that I thought I got rid of three years ago. Lately it's being triggered by me not wanting to be a woman. Wanting the respect and privileges of being a man.
I usually overcome negativity by letting myself emote however I need to emote in that/those moments. Being honest with myself helps. Listening to my body for when it starts to spiral. Understanding the signals. Doing the things I love. Taking time out. Family time. Laughter therapy. Walking barefoot on grass. Ice-cream. Writing these thoughts out until I feel empty and light. Helping others overcome their struggles funnily enough helps me overcome mine. Perspective also helps. To know that there are many others who have come before and will continue to come after me that have had similar struggles.
How have your family and friends encouraged you to pursue what you are doing?
At first it was a little tricky to convince those that are close to me that the path I've chosen is the true path for me. It's been quite a journey breaking down the barrier of what a Sikh artist looks like, acts like, sounds like and I'm sure this journey is an ongoing one full of discoveries and turning heads. I get that there will always be fear in those that love you that what you want to pursue isn't the easy route, that you wanting to be you and shake up the system won't be accepted and hate will be spewed at you. But now it's super cool and fun to share my stories and achievements with my family and friends, knowing that they have my back and I'm super lucky I have amazing support systems.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your creative work or outlook??
Sometimes it's the shit things in life, the experiences and incidents that make my blood boil, the fire burn, hot tears, frustrations, passions - and sometimes it's a Nina Simone doco on Netflix, sitting on a panel with empowering women, watching the late screening of Battle of the Sexes with a mate, having an inspiring day full on unexpected twists and turns, interacting with a multitude of society's characters. Ultimately, somewhere deep in my body my inspiration comes from my family, my upbringing and I'd like to think - the inner social justice Sikh warrior within me - the teachings of Guru Nanak, the poetry that is Gurbani.
You are having a dinner party – which three people would you invite, and why?
Nina Simone, Amy Poehler, Anoushka Shankkar - Amy would make us laugh, I find Anoushka super enchanting and Nina would have so many truth bombs to drop.
Tell us an interesting fact you would like to share!
I can eat an entire watermelon in one sitting.