Subcontinental Drift, a growing national arts movement uplifting South Asian communities, welcomed visitors from all over the Boston Area to their Diwali showcase at the Museum of Fine Arts for an evening of art, performances and cultural celebration on Oct. 27.
According to the MFA’s website, Diwali is an “ancient festival of lights” that involves lighting a diya, or oil lamp, to celebrate “triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.”
Some of the performances from the event included autobiographical tales, a sword dance and a presentation of calligraphy amongst other acts.
“It just started by creating a wish list of folks who we thought would be great to lend their voices and their talents to an occasion like this,” said Adi Nochur, an organizer and emcee for SubDrift Boston. “[We] wanted to make sure we had a diverse mix of people from different backgrounds and different types of artistic mediums.”
Known for their weekly open mics, SubDrift has chapters across the country — with 2022 marking the tenth anniversary of Boston’s group — that are dedicated to building an inclusive creative environment for the South Asian community.
“We’ve heard themes of how do we find liberation through arts and community building and activism,” Nochur said. “And those are things that we very much try to give voice to.”
The event has taken place for several years in one of Boston’s most prestigious museums, Nochur said, but this is the first year back in person since the pandemic.
“When we first started out, we never thought we would ever do events at a space like the MFA,” said Nochur, “so I think it’s a sign of how we’ve grown and what we’re able to do and how we’re able to build community, but I think it’s also a recognition from your more mainstream cultural institutions that they need to bring different voices to these spaces.”
Although Diwali is a Hindu holiday, Nochur said, people of all beliefs were invited to the showcase.
“In South Asia, Diwali is celebrated by people from different cultures, you have Sikhs and you have Jains who have their own stories and traditions behind the holiday,” Nochur said. “They might call it by different names, but I think it’s all part of a broader celebration of trying to think about what it means to connect with light and how does that manifest.”
Himali Bhatt, a writer and pediatric hospitalist, said it was her first time sharing a nonfiction story about Diwali’s meaning and the power of food.
“It’s always a little bit nerve wracking to share your own stories,” Bhatt said. “But SubDrift is just such a welcoming community that I feel like there really wasn’t a different story I could tell tonight when you’re having a Diwali show and talking about personal experiences.”
Regardless of people’s backgrounds, Bhatt said SubDrift is a “warm, open space” much like their Diwali celebrations.
Payal Kumar, another co-organizer for SubDrift, said they have a “lovely little micro way” of allowing people to “create something beautiful” on their own.
“We don’t need to be defined by the sort of internal hegemonies we might be facing in our homelands,” Kumar said of the type of diaspora they wish to see in the world. “We don’t need to be defined by the sort of white gaze that we might be finding in America.”
Rafay Rashid and Shahjehan Khan, two members of the band Ravi Shavi, also took the stage to close out the showcase.
Khan, who started attending open mic events with SubDrift in 2011, said it’s been a “place to call home.”
“I’ve been a musician, actor and a creator for a while and they’ve definitely always been a space to come to to reflect and grow and definitely through challenges in life too,” Khan said.
With ten years under its belt, Nochur said SubDrift’s Boston chapter is looking to build and grow with more artistic communities to bring that “South Asian diaspora voice to the table.”
“Arts communities can oftentimes be fragmented, but the more we can be in community together, the stronger we are, so I’d love to see more of that in the next decade,” Nochur said.
Utilizing this platform brings many opportunities to specifically share and learn about other cultures and traditions, Kumar said, but also to “expand who we’re celebrating with and who we’re bringing into these spaces.”
“We really always try to bring in a variety of voices so we can really just complicate the narratives and stereotypes people have and show that we’re here, we’re building, we’re cultural innovators,” Kumar said, “and that we have a lot to offer as long as people want to hear it.”