NUSHELLE DE SILVA L UNFOLDING SOLIDARITY
Nushelle De Silva l Unfolding Solidarity
Named the Queen's Young Leader for Sri Lanka in 2016, Nushelle De Silva is the Founder of 'Building Bridges', an initiative which statred out as a series of weekly arts workshops in nurturing self-expression and sustained dialogue between ethnically diverse youth in rehabilitated communities in the north of Sri Lanka. Also recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of the 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs in Asia for the year 2016, Nushelle speaks to us about the critical influence and impact performance praxis and theatre played in impacting her social work through 'Building Bridges'.
"I got my first taste of racism in the playgrounds of Sydney, where I spent my first seven years. I was one of the few brown children in a predominantly white pre-school. I was often taunted about my color by three children in particular which made me conscious of race. But more significantly, cognizant to how important to how important it is to feel a sense of belonging as a part of a minority community," she says in earnest. "So what drove me to start 'Building Bridges' is the realization that everyone needs an outlet to explore and embrace their identity and differences, and for me personally , it was thatre".
Nushelle then articulates the manner in which performance nurtured her self confidence. "Theatre helped me understand human nature; how people think and why people do the things they do because as actors, we were compelled to find sense of empathy or compassion to character portraylas we personally did not identify with". Thsi feature of performance praxis helped her form the curx of what 'Building Bridges' aims to be - an endeavor to share through the arts and the capacity for empathic understanding. 'Building Bridges' works with those underserved by existing educational and social institutions, through bespoke arts programmes designed to build essential skills for personal resilience and communal co-existence, particularly creative and critical thinking skills and the ability to collaboratively frame and solve complex problems.
Nushelle launched 'Building Bridges' in 2012 as a project for volunteer group citizens initiative after graduating from Princeton University with an A . B . in architecture and certificates in urban studies and theatre. She also received a Master of Science and Architecture studies (SMArchS) from MIT in 2015, and is currently reading for her PhD. Nushelle's academic discourse in history, theory and critisism intersects the applied art of architecture, anthropology, and history highlighting the manner in which interpersonal relations are forged overtime through the lens of material and visual culture.
"I was drawn to architecture in my search for a human - centered appraoch to design and have recently found myself engaged with the methodologies of design thinking, some techniques of which draw directly from theatre. Generating user stories remined me of the hot -seat game we played while getting into character during drama practices in school, pondering what Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth might like to eat for breakfast. Improvisations games are a staple of design thinking, and these were already familiar to me from warm-ups before rehearsal". Evidently these experiences culminated to help her frame the execution of workshop.
The series of workshops begin with exercises for the children to become comfortable with expression through conversation, body and play. These activites were inspired by some of the theatre exercises Nushelle learne during rehearsals at Ladies' Collegefrom director Tracy Holsinger, who was featured on ARTRA Magazine E29 2017 and her Speech and Drama teacher Varuni Jayasekera. "Furthrmore, my performance in 'Villa' , written and directed by Guillermo Calderon and produced by Indika Senanayake in 2015 although relatively recent, gave me an example of how to addressremembrance and collective memory in a form that bridged the gap between my academic and artistic practice."
'Building Bridges' is now incorpoarting visual art in its day to day activities. The team which also includes designer Irfadha Muzammil, artist Firi Rahman, who was ARTRA Magazine E16 (2015) emerging artist feature and photojournalist Amalini de Sayrah formulate innovative exercises to encourage creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. One such activity encourages to 'map' their way to school through creative means to cultivate visual symbolism and interactions among peers. Another workshop adopted activities Nushelle learned during a design thinking session at the Stanford d.school , during which the children used clay to create collaborative sculptures to spark on a discussion around collective authorship and the value of building on each other's ideas.
Nushelle asserts that life in many ways is a performance, a stage on which one is the protagonist of a drama that is both individual and intertwined with others. She concludes by saying that the practice of art requires a great balance between freedom and discipline. "I've leraned my most valuable life skills and life lessons from the arts. It takes a certain discipline to be an artist; you don't know how your day work will unfold, but you still have to show up. I personally admire and learn a lot from those professionally pursuing the arts. You realise from them that inspiration is not some quick flash, but the result of continued commitment to work, coupled to work hard, coupled with faith that your muse will eventually show up."