From Margins to Mainstream: Priya Srinivasan’s journey of artistic impact

By Indira Laisram
Dr Priya Srinivasan — Dancehouse 2025 // Pic supplied

In a world where artists often go unnoticed, Melbourne-based dancer/choreographer Dr Priya Srinivasan is making her mark.

In April, Srinivasan was awarded the inaugural Impact Award by Creative Australia for Asia Pacific Arts in 2024. As the name suggests, this award is given to an Australian artist, group/collective, or arts organisation for their significant impact on communities and/or audiences in Asia or the Pacific.

Srinivasan, whose work is rooted in Indian classical dance (more on that below), believes this recognition marks a significant milestone as it’s the first time the government has acknowledged so many diaspora artists in this manner.

Out of 51 nominees and only five awards granted, Srinivasan’s achievement is particularly notable – it’s the first time an Indian Australian has been nominated and won a national award in the arts.

“It feels truly humbling and rewarding that Indian and South Asian arts are being recognised in this way through the work that I and many others are doing, many of whom work tirelessly and don’t always get acknowledged,” she says.

Priya Srinivasan won the Impact Award at the Asia Pacific Arts Awards 2024 // Pic supplied

Born in Chennai, Srinivasan spent her early years in Kolkata before relocating to Melbourne, where she attended school in a neighbourhood facing regular discrimination. Indian dance and acting as strong characters became her safe haven, giving her comfort and a feeling of fitting in.

“I suffered a lot under that, and dance empowered me. Even though there are aspects of Indian dance that can be disempowering, you are never confined to one character in a dance piece. You can portray a relatively weak character one moment, and then become remarkably strong the next second,” she shares.

Srinivasan was part of The Bharatam Dance Company, formed by her guru Dr Chandrabhanu, which became a significant platform for South Asian artistic expression on mainstream stages. This pioneering endeavour was fully funded by the Australia Council (now Creative Australia).

Agam Sidney Myer Music bowl 2023 // Pic supplied

She describes her upbringing as a dichotomy: while growing up in suburbia, dance opened doors to queer and radical artistic expressions guided by Dr Chandrabhanu and his partner, the visual artist Geoffrey Goldie.

But what also helped her bring together her fractured identity of being a migrant of colour and pride in her heritage was performing three seasons of about 36 performances each year at Arts Centre Melbourne. This venue, located in the heart of the city, provided her with the opportunity to be paid to perform and to tell diverse stories from Indian, South Asian, and South East Asian mythologies past and present.

“I suppose it was having the experience of performing in the ‘centre’ while also coming from the margins that enabled me to see alternate possibilities for representation of artists of colour. This led me on a journey around the world, where I went overseas,, got my PhD and was a professor at the University of California in Dance Studies, only to return again to Naarm to see what I could contribute,” says Srinivasan.

The Durga Chronicles Artshouse 2022 // Pic supplied

And when she returned, she decided to pursue her role as an artist and critical thinker, to show by example that “we need the arts” and to put academic thinking into practice.

Throughout her career, Srinivasan’s path has woven her background as a dancer, researcher and choreographer with her mission to tackle social justice issues through art.

For example, “The Durga Chronicles”, a collaboration with composer and singer Uthra Vijay and a Carnatic choir of women aged between 28-72, won the Green Room Award, Melbourne’s premier, peer-presented, performing arts industry awards. In the performance, she examines the prevention of violence against women by leveraging traditional arts in experimental ways.

Dance, music, and theatre play a crucial role in addressing social justice because they evoke emotions, inspiring action and change. And Srinivasan believes in the power of the arts to break down barriers, reduce polarities, and foster connections on deep political issues.

Churning Waters Adishakti Puducherry 2019 // Pic supplied

Srinivasan’s work also involves collaborating with First Nations artists in Australia, recognising that their struggles with colonisation continue. She believes in uniting around questions of recovery, particularly in amplifying the voices of marginalised individuals in history and addressing issues like climate justice and violence prevention.

By examining who receives funding and what is considered contemporary, she aims to challenge colonial perspectives and foster an anti-colonial lens. Through her intercultural explorations, she not only engages with broader societal issues but also seeks to illuminate the overlooked stories of women in our backgrounds.

In 2019, Srinivasan co-founded Sangam along with renowned artists Uthra Vijay and Hari Sivanesan to create a self-represented platform for South Asian and diaspora artists.

“Five years ago, there was minimal funding for South Asian art, and even now, we are not really on mainstream platforms in great numbers, but it is changing. I am thrilled to see many people using Sangam’s models now to advocate for South Asian arts across many industries.

“We established innovative models to challenge the mainstream sector and provide self-represented platforms for recognition as artists of excellence,” she shares.

Priya Srinivasan won the Impact Award at the Asia Pacific Arts Awards 2024 // Pic supplied

Moving forward, Sangam’s focus is on project-based work, commissions, dialogues, leadership support, and research. It aims to continue collaborating with organisations, producers, venues, and government bodies to ensure diverse backgrounds have platforms for self-representation, especially considering the high volume of migration from India.

Srinivasan’s journey has been one of deep exploration and activism through the arts. She ponders what it would look like for people of colour to collaborate directly with each other, recognising the historical divide and rule tactics.

Her hope is for emerging performers, scholars, and artists to rethink and decolonise themselves, with a priority on Indigenous concerns through friendship and allyship. By putting First Nations first, Srinivasan believes they can reimagine their place and space as they create together for the future.

Rest assured, for Dr Srinivasan, this is not just a profession but her life’s work and surrender to her deepest passion—a dedication to creating a more inclusive and equitable society through the transformative power of art.

The Indian Sun acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.

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