India has the world’s largest diaspora with over 32 million people worldwide and a record-breaking 2.5 lakh people who migrate yearly. Although we leave the country seeking better opportunities, India never really leaves us. Pop culture has reminded us time and time again how facets of Indian culture have spread with its people and imprinted themselves on the world map. We see them represented in Hollywood, reality shows, arts and literature, international sports, and any other medium you can find. The common assumption that with distance, the connection to your roots withers away doesn’t seem to be true for Indians. In this case, it only becomes stronger.
The same applies to Bindi Bosses, a progressive South Asian performing arts company that seamlessly blends traditional Indian Classical and Folk dances like Kuthu and Bollywood with influences from South Asian Cinema and street dances like Dancehall and Hip-Hop from around the world. Established in April 2019, the group provides a platform for culturally and linguistically diverse artists to collaborate and create live fusion dance experiences; featuring signature Henna-style face and body art in a creative practice of reflection and connection.
Cultural responsibility lies at the core of Bindi Bosses. They are a self-funded matriarchy that only accepts funding and income from projects that challenge Eurocentrism and prioritise supporting and amplifying the voices of marginalised migrant, refugee and First Nation communities. As migrants living and working on unceded First Nations land in Australia, they see arts and culture as a tool for amplifying Indigenous voices and subverting colonial narratives. They believe that art is inherently political, especially when it is created and performed on stolen lands. Embodying their beliefs, Bindi Bosses withdrew from Sydney Festival last year in solidarity with Palestinian citizens, when they found out that it had sought and accepted funding from the Israeli embassy. They also exclusively collaborate with causes and platforms that share their mutual respect for other cultures.
The founder and director of Bindi Bosses, Shyamla, is a vivacious Indian woman currently based in Australia with a Master's Degree in International Human Rights Law & Policy and three decades of dance experience. She’s also a performing artist, choreographer, educator and writer who has taught at renowned dance studios throughout Australia and abroad like the Sydney Dance Company, Ettingshausens and Dance Attic, U.K.
“We use dance and art to challenge traditional norms and preconceptions. We do not pander to what people outside (or inside) our cultures expect to see. Instead, we are redefining what that looks like on our own terms, beyond the stereotype of Bollywood. We stand in solidarity with the Traditional Owners of the unceded lands on which we practice and perform and advocate for greater South Asian representation, cultural and linguistic diversity, female empowerment, racial equity and intersectional inclusion.”, shares Shyamla in her Ted Talk.
She further goes on to shed light on the appropriation of Brown culture and how desi stereotypes like Bollywood, butter chicken and 'chai tea' doesn’t represent her and where she’s from. Shyamla talks about the struggles she endured with racism, bullying, and her own internalised shame about her ethnicity, which is heartbreaking but common for the Indian diaspora. Through dance, the Bindi Bosses strive to let that shame go and accept and honour where they come from. This art form is also a way for them to pay tribute to other cultures like the Indigenous people of Australia, as well as a tool for self-healing and processing trauma caused by the civil war, colonisation, caste bias and colourism on their people. The Bindi they wear thus becomes a symbol for empowerment.
Bindi Bosses are the epitome of strength and emancipation in the ways they have taken the pain of cultural oppression and worn it on their foreheads with pride. They also represent the resilience of the South Asian community that endures bigotry through grace and the vigour which allows it to shine. The ethos of the group is a reminder for us that with dance, literature, music, and other art forms of self-expression, we hold the power to face the world with all its challenges while still preserving the gentleness and beauty of our culture and spirit.
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