36th Annual Symposium: Āīnā: Reflecting South Asia in Hawaii, Asia-Pacific, and Beyond

Photo of girl in water by Sai Bhatawadekar

Āīnā: Reflecting South Asia in Hawaii, Asia-Pacific, and Beyond

The 36th Annual Symposium

Series: Reflecting South Asia in Hawaii, Asia-Pacific, and Beyond

Chapter: Art, Body, Storytelling

April 24-26, 2019

Please find the Program here.

You can also view the LiveStream of the Symposium at this link:

Āīnā in Hindi-Urdu means mirror.

Think of this year’s symposium as a curated exhibit. Instead of exhausting the full spectrum of a theme, we present a few select pieces and let them breathe. In the spirit of “mirrors”, we pair up presenters, so that they can reflect one-another and ponder. A genuine aim of this year is also to make this sharing process non-hierarchical and non-elitist, and to bring to the forefront young artists, activists, and thinkers, who are doing innovative work springing from their own stories and experiments, from their quests, hopes, and convictions for a better future. We purposefully draw from artists and thinkers here to reflect upon what it means to engage with South Asia here in Hawaii and in the Asia-Pacific, what place-based awareness we can bring to our learning and outreach, how we can build a community. In that context the word āīnā may evoke a phonetic affiliation with ‘āina, however, we respect the cultural belonging and incredible complexity of that concept – colonial, environmental, artistic, emotional, and much much more, and perhaps in subsequent years of this series we may be allowed to embark upon a journey to reveal the nuances and connections. This year, we dare only to catch the first glimpse of ourselves in the mirror.  

Photo by Sai Bhatawadekar
Photo by Sai Bhatawadekar

As we started coming together, we realized that we share and would love to share with you our experiences of Art, Body, Storytelling

This thread will first pull at the strings of East West Center’s Wood Puppets of Asia exhibit and the Department of Philosophy’s Cross-Currents conference on Affects, Sentiments, and Emotions. We’ll move on to body and storytelling in our Asia-Pacific spaces in music, dance, theater, photography, and multi-media avatars. To give you a glimpse: while Angana will reveal the sacred geometry of Manipuri dance, a young cellist and hula dancer, Nawa, will talk about her music compositions for Manipuri folktales and dance theatre on HIV awareness in India. Marina will share her multimedia work on stories of disability, violence, and the resilience of women survivors, while Manjari will portray the spectrum of her photographic subjects, from embodying godliness to emptying dementia. While Asad Ali Jafri will take you through his art production in Malaysia, Singapore, and Hawaii, Feriyal Aslam will choreograph her way through Pakistan, Indonesia, and Hawaii. To avoid the gross irony of only “talking” about embodied consciousness, we’ll involve you in movement, theater, and dance workshops to experience it yourself. We’ll tie the threads, as we started the tradition two years ago, with community members expressing what it means to be engaging with South Asian culture in Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific.   

Below are some of our artist and activist profiles…and at the very end the schedule!

Nawahineokalaʻi “Nawa” Lanzilotti is a cellist and sound artist based between New Delhi and Honolulu.

Nawa’s work explores the possibilities of contemporary decolonial indigenous art with a focus on the body as an archive. She collaborates often with indigenous artists from India’s northeast. In 2017 Nawa composed a cello & electronics score for the contemporary dance piece Folktale by Manipuri-based Nachom Arts Foundation (NAF); the score drew stylistically from Hawaiian ʻoli (chant) as well as American folk music and contemporary electronics. Folktale toured India in 2017 as winner of the Prakriti Foundation 2016 Contemporary Dance award. Nawa’s work is inspired and informed by the intimate worldview of her native Hawaiian culture and traditional arts practice hula kahiko (she studies at Hālau Hula o Maiki in Honolulu).

Photo of Nawa Lanzilotti, cellist and sound artist.
Nawa Lanzilotti, cellist and sound artist.

Nawa held a fellowship (2013-2015) with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to study Hindustani classical music on cello and now studies in Mumbai with Hindustani violinist Dr N Rajam. In India Nawa founded PULSE, an international music collective uniting music and movement in underrepresented communities. Nawa co-produced and co-directed “I am +: Dance Theater on HIV in India” together with global NGO International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and frequent artistic partner Delhi Dance Theater to raise awareness about HIV and vaccine research. “I am +” premiered in New Delhi on May 18th, 2018, HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, as a result of interviews and workshops with HIV research scientists and HIV+ community members. PULSE plans to continue these workshops that stimulate connection, expression, and hope through simple movement, sound, and storytelling activities.

Photo of performance by Dr. Angana Jhaveri

Angana Jhaveri, since early childhood, trained in Classical Manipuri Dance with her mother Nayana Jhaveri. Later she was fortunate to receive intensive training with Guru Bipin in Manipur, and perform worldwide with the Jhaveri Sisters’ Dance Company. She has a PhD in Theater Arts funded by the John D Rockefeller 3rd Fund (Asian Cultural Council). Her dissertation was on Raslila Performance Tradition in the temples of Manipur, NE India. From dance to theater and then film, she has been producing and directing documentary films under Illumine Films, that include ethnographic films for museums as well as promotional films for NGOs. Her films include Paramparik Karigar: A short film on artisans’ achievements and testimonials, 2016; DARE to Dream: A promotional documentary to celebrate 25 years of a special needs school supported by Tata Global, 2016. Phad Painting and Gond Films, which won the Best Film Awards at Heritage Film Festival; Aneka Rasa: a film on cultural unity between India and Indonesia for the Ministry of External Affairs, India. 2005. She has also scripted and produced 30 celebrity spots for TV on AIDS awareness 1999-2000. Angana has been the Associate Director for WAVE (Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment), a digital learning project funded by The MacArthur Foundation, USA. 2009 -2010. She has worked with The Asia Society New York, Performing Arts Department and The Asian American Dance Theater New York, as Director of Development.

Angana’s objective is to document India’s living heritage arts, and help promote the work of those that are innovating and creating a sustainable future for social good. In this symposium she will speak of the sacred geometry of Manipuri Classical dance and its embodied awareness.

Cover photo of the multimedia exhibition - Silent Tears

Marina George is a museum educator and arts programmer with primary interests in the fields of Accessibility and medical humanities. She believes in the power of visual art to enable conversations about social justice, especially within the space of the museum. Marina is currently a Foundation Scholar at the East-West Center, a recipient of the John Young Scholarship in the Arts, and a graduate teaching assistant in Art History at the University of Hawai’i. She held a long-term graduate internship in Education and Accessibility at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is currently working to curate an exhibition activating the Indonesian collection at the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art.

Photo of Marina George

Marina has been a consultant for Blur Projects Australia since 2015, working with photographer Belinda Mason in the production of Silent Tears, a multimedia exhibition that documents the stories of women with disabilities who have encountered violence, or have acquired a disability through violence. Initiated in Australia, the project has evolved into an international exhibition, documenting women’s stories from over twenty countries. It brought together diverse consultants from disability and art sectors, and uniquely showed how art can become a powerful tool to support an international community of survivors. The project compares the varied contexts in which violence emerges across the globe, reinforcing the need for stronger platforms and policies for women to rally together on. Marina worked with disability organizations in India and New York to document and photograph participants who were willing to share their stories, and curated the Silent Tears exhibition at the James Chapel, UTS, New York in April 2018, which was held in conjunction with the 62nd UN Commision on the Status of Women.

Photo of Manjari Sharma, photographer

“One morning naani opened her eyes, turned on the TV to play her old bollywood favorites and then started dancing, Your naani danced passionately, just like she did everything else, and she didn’t stop moving her body to this music for what felt like an hour. A couple of months later we all learned that what she was doing, was dancing to the tune of her slowly escaping mind. Soon thereafter naani started mixing up her dates, her days and eventually, her people. Siya, while you were four months old, there were days your naani wouldn’t eat, nights when that she wouldn’t sleep but she sat by a pile of her prayer books and chanted for six hours at a stretch. What agony and turmoil it was to watch her disappear, but looking back now, there seemed to be some astounding parallels between you and her. You were a baby that needed to be taught how to live while your grandmother right before my very eyes was unlearning all she had known about living… We all watched in awe as she slowly turned all her acquired language and her identity into ether. In the three years to follow your birth, your naani would lose all her speech and all her memories as I watched you form new ones. Make no mistake, your naani wasn’t going crazy. This deconstruction of her self awareness came to be diagnosed as Dementia, a condition that couldn’t be undone. Your grandpa, your nanu, did everything from praying to the ocean, the pantheon of Hindu gods to chasing doctors, so he may once again live with the Kiran Sharma we all knew.”

Manjari Sharma is a photographer, born and raised in Mumbai. Her work has been awarded, published and exhibited internationally and is in the collection of The MET, NYC and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston amongst various private collections. Manjari has lectured at the School of Museum of Fine Arts, Rubin Museum of Art, Asia Society, School of Visual Arts, Pratt University and Parson’s school of Design. Her Darshan series brought her to prominence and will be published as a book by Nazraeli press in fall 2019. In her recent series Loss and Resurrection, Manjari photographs her mother’s journey through Dementia.


Performers on stage of Parayan Maranna Kadhakal - Untold Forgotten Stories
Photo of Srijith Sandaram

Srijith Sundaram, directed the inaugural play “We are Victims” for the Queer Pride Walk in Thiruvananthapuram on March 17, 2019. The play launched the LGBTQ Theatre Group Q Rang, which contains members of a variety of sexualities and genders. Q Rang is an initiative of the Thiruvananthapuram based LGBTQ organization Queerhythm.

Srijith, trained in contemporary and folk dance forms, is a dancer, cinematographer, ad-filmmaker, theatre director and actor. He has been with the Marapachi theatre group since its inception, and has worked with leading directors in Tamil theatre, including Mangai. Srijith is one of the founders of “Kattiyakkari” theater group of storytellers. In 2010, his first play as director was “Molagapodi”, on social hierarchy of gender, caste and class. The play has been staged at National School of Drama’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2012, International Theatre Festival of Kerala 2012, Abhinaya Theater Festival 2011, Purisai Duraisasmi Kannappa Thambiran Theatre Festival 2011 and Dalit-Adivasi Theater Festival. His second production “Shame or Insult” 2013, was based on Manto’s well-known story narrating one day in the life of a sex worker. “Kudierupu” 2016, was organized and performed in different parts of Chennai, when transgender were prevented from renting houses in Chennai. “Kudierupu” played a vital role in bringing their protests to the general public. In 2017,“Manjal” was about the unspoken and unseen “divine untouchables”. “Parayan Maranna Kadhakal” (Untold Forgotten Stories), 2018, is a workshop production of stories by transgender participants about their childhood, growing up, and adult life, emotional traumas, public humiliation, indifference and lack of compassion. This is the first attempt in Kerala to build trans-theatre group and productions and is now travelling to all parts of India.

Photo of performers of 5 Weeks

Dipankar Mukherjee is the Artistic Director of Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, a progressive space for arts and dialogue. As a director, he has worked professionally in India, England, Canada and the United States, and directed plays in English, Hindi, Bengali, and other Indian and world languages. Selected credits in Pangea include 5 Weeks by Meena Natarajan on stories of India-Pakistan partition. He was awarded a Doris Duke Fellowship at Shangri-la in Hawaii in 2015. He co-taught a week-long masterclass on ensemble building at PA’I Foundation in Hawaii in 2018. He also co-facilitated a workshop process comparing Indian and Western theater practices at the South Asian Center in Vancouver, Canada. Dipankar facilitates processes that disrupt colonial, racist, and patriarchal modalities of working and collaboratively searches for an alternate way.

Photo of Dipankar Mukherjee, Artistic Director of Pangea World Theater

In the United States, he worked with South African playwright Athol Fugard, with multiple Arab American Somali, Latino and South Asian artists and communities combining poetry, dance, music and painting. He also completed a short film with Santanu Chatterjee called The Sufi Project. He has directed multi-lingual works commissioned by Amnesty International, Centro Legale and the Minnesota Advocates of Human Rights. Dipankar has worked with cross-cultural dancers using Kalaripayattu, an Indian martial arts form. He has worked with choreographer/dancers Hema Rajagopalan, Krithika Rajagopalan, Hari Krishnan, Rita Mustaphi, Ananya Chatterjea modern, Anita Ratnam and Susana di Palma. Dipankar has worked with Praxis International in Duluth on domestic violence aimed to impact legislation in the U.S. He is on the board of the Advocates of Human Rights, Mizna and the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists and has participated in panels for Ford Foundation and Theater Communications Group. He was awarded the Advocates of Human Rights Award in 2005 and the Twin Cities International Citizens Award in 2001, Excellence for the Arts Award by the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans in 2004. Dipankar has received the Humphrey Institute Fellowship to Salzburg, the Bush Leadership Fellowship to study non-violence and peace methodologies in India and South Africa, and has been a Ford Foundation delegate to India and Lebanon.

Photo of performers including Feriyal Amal Aslam

Feriyal Amal Aslam is a social-cultural anthropologist, peace ambassador and Bharata Natyam classical dancer by training, recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship (and East-West Centre degree Fellowship) for both her MA in Anthropology (UH) and PhD in Culture and Performance (UCLA). Her studentship in classical dance training in Bharata Natyam under the legendary Pakistani dance teacher Indu Mitha along with the basic Kathak and Udhay Shankar Style began in 2000 and continues to date. As an anthropologist, dance history scholar and practitioner, she uses the methodological tool of the “Thinking Body” of diverse dance forms from South and Southeast Asia to East Asia and the Pacific.

Photo of Feriyal Amal Aslam

She is working on her book manuscript “Choreographing Inclusivity (in) Pakistan: Indu Mitha, Dancing Occluded Histories in the Land of the Pure”. The book proposes a soft-power diplomacy approach using aesthetic and performative practices, and people to people diplomacy to heal relations between countries of the Subcontinent. She has over two decades of experience of teaching and research in development sector, including Heading Department of Development Studies at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) till 2015. Based in Indonesia since 2016 she continues to lecture, conduct workshops and perform her peace through arts work in universities and academic circles in Pakistan, Japan (Hiroshima University), Indonesia, Philippines and numerous parts of the United States. She regularly conducts a biannual workshop  “Choreographing Peace through arts” for Pak-US alumni network of peace activists. Currently researching and teaching using creative methods particularly dance for second language acquisition at Language Centre at the Institute of Technology Bandung, Indonesia.

Photo of Akari Ueoka

Akari Ueoka is an Odissi and Yosakoi Dancer living, practicing, and teaching on Maui.

My first encounter with Odissi dance was when my teacher, Sarala Dandekar performed at an event in 2005. I was mesmerized by her performance. I did not think that I would dare to learn the dance form because it looked very complicated with the eye, torso, and percussive feet movements – not to mention the hand gestures that she was doing simultaneously. Its intricacy fascinated me. For the first few months, it was like learning a totally new language. My body didn’t know what my brain was trying to signal. The fundamental reason why I fell in love with Odissi was due to its strong spiritual background, which resonated with the spiritual seeker in me.

Photo of peromance Yosakoi, dance festival

Yosakoi (Yo-sah-koi) means, “Good World Has Come.” It is an annual dance festival originated in my hometown, Kochi, Japan after the Second World War to encourage the town’s spiritual and economic recovery. Yosakoi united people and generated new hope. Today, 15,000 dancers from all walks of life dance for four consecutive days in the month of August. I grew up being a part of the festival. My Yosakoi teacher, Suga Kunitomo was running the Suga Jazz Dance Studio in Kochi. She had trained several high-caliber dance instructors. Her students, including myself had opportunities to travel around Japan and perform Yosakoi dance. I am very grateful; I have learned not only what it means to be professional from her but also the joy of sharing joy through dance.

Photo of Monima Chadha

Monima Chadha is Chair of Philosophy, School of Philosophical, Historical, and International Studies, Monash University, Australia.

A second photo of Monima Chadha

She is currently Head of Philosophy and Graduate Coordinator of the Philosophy Program at Monash University, Australia. Her principal research area is the cross-cultural philosophy of mind, specifically the Classical Indian and Contemporary Western Philosophy of mind. Over the last few years, she has been at the forefront of research to integrate insights on mind, consciousness and the self from across these philosophical traditions and the cognitive neurosciences. The aim of this research is to create a cohesively universal philosophical framework to understand these entities and also to enrich each of these traditions by leveraging insights from the other. This work has regularly featured in leading academic journals like Philosophy East and West; Asian Philosophy; Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences; Consciousness and Cognition, etc. Currently, Monima is writing a book on the philosophical evolution of mind in Buddhism and its centrality to the doctrine in the absence of self. In 2013, she was awarded the Contemplative Studies Fellowship by the Mind and Life Institute and Templeton Foundation, USA.

Monima Chadha will give a talk on “Self conscious Emotion without a Self” at the overlap between Philosophy and Center for South Asian Studies – at the closing of Uehiro Graduate Philosophy Conference on Affects, Sentiments, and Emotions and the opening of Center for South Asian Studies Art, Body, and Storytelling.

Photo of Sean Michael Smith

Sean Michael Smith is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at University of Hawaii.

My research focuses on the the intersection of Pali Buddhist philosophy, contemporary philosophy of mind, and cognitive science. Specifically, I spend a lot of time thinking about the connection between affect, embodiment, and the nature of consciousness. Emotional and sensory affects have been the preoccupation of a lot of philosophers, but less time has been spent on homeodynamic affects, which are my main preoccupation, feelings like thirst, hunger, and that more general pervasive bodily feeling of simply being alive. Philosophically speaking, I also have interests in affective bias and salience construction, pain and suffering, animal consciousness, and the nature of the self. I have published articles in the Journal of Indian Philosophy, the Review of Philosophy and Psychology, and the Psychology of Consciousness.

I have been playing the drums for over 15 years and am an avid dance enthusiast. I have also been practicing vipassana meditation in the tradition of S.N. Goenka for well over a decade.

I will also be giving a keynote address at the UH Mānoa’s Philosophy Department’s Uehiro Graduate Philosophy Conference on Affects, Sentiments, and Emotions. My talk will address the question of whether emotions are conceptually constructed and whether ‘constructionist’ views of mental events of various sorts ought to be used against ‘natural kind’ view of these sorts of phenomena. Additionally, I will give a second talk as part of the UH Mānoa’s South Asian Studies symposium. My talk is called ‘Embodiment and Consciousness: Phenomenological and South-Asian Buddhist Perspectives’. This talk will explore Merleau-Ponty’s views about how the active body helps to bring forth a world of significance through its engaged activity. The Indian Buddhist thinkers have a very similar idea in mind, but one that is far more fraught with soteriological preoccupations that make their assessments of the enacted lifework (Lebenswelt) decidedly pessimistic. This talk critically explores the consequences of this pessimism.

Photo of wooden puppets

Michael Schuster is curator of the East-West Center Gallery. A specialist on arts of Asia and the Pacific, he served as folk arts coordinator for the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (1999-2002). He has studied Asia Pacific arts for 30 years, training with master artists from India, Burma, Indonesia and Japan. He has served on panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Western State Arts Federation, and serves on the advisory panel for community outreach at Shangri La, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. He holds a Ph.D. in Asian theater from the University of Hawai‘i.

Photo of Michael Schuster

Michael Schuster will give a tour of the East West Center exhibit on Wood Puppets of Asia. Puppet theatre presents the entire cosmos through character, color, story, sound, and movement. Distinct traditions are found throughout the Asia Pacific region, many of which have been influenced by shamanism, animism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Local folklore is also incorporated and puppet performances are closely related to human dance-drama and mask dances. In many Asia Pacific cultures, puppeteers are associated with unseen, mystical, and divine powers as they animate a whole world created in miniature. This exhibition focuses on the three-dimensional wood puppets: string puppets (marionettes), rod (stick) puppets, and glove (hand) puppets. More than 10 unique traditions from India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan are displayed. To honor our host culture, Hawaiian puppets are featured. These performance traditions are a place of intersection — a bridge between the past, present, and future — where the divine and human worlds meet and ancient stories are made relevant for the contemporary experience. https://www.eastwestcenter.org/events/exhibition-cosmic-characters-wood-puppets-asia

Photo of Asad Ali Jafri

Asad Ali Jafri is Shangri La’s Associate Curator of Programs. He is a cultural producer, global arts leader and interdisciplinary artist with a creative vision for sustainable social change. As an innovative thinker, Asad utilizes the universal language of art to connect communities, cultures and people to transform interactions, perceptions, and collective consciousness. Since 2001, Asad has worked passionately with artists, creatives, and thought leaders across nations, disciplines, and genres.

As a cultural producer, Asad is the creative mind behind many festivals, concerts, events and productions. In 2013, Asad launched Sukoon Creative, a multifaceted arts and culture firm that focuses on actualizing new ideas and delivering innovative concepts in local and global markets.  Until 2012, as Director of Arts and Culture for IMAN (Inner-city Muslim Action Network), Asad produced Takin’ It to the Streets: Urban International Festival and the Community Café series featuring hundreds of artists and attracting thousands of people. As a global arts leader, Asad works closely with emerging and established artists on new opportunities for original work, developmental workshops, artist retreats and residencies, cultural exchanges, network building, and resource sharing. Some of these projects include Words Beats and Life’s From Sifrs to Ciphers: Hip Hop is Muslim, New England Foundation for the Arts’ Center Stage, Art Midwest’s CaravanSerai, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston’s Intersections, and the World Islamic Economic Forum’s MOCAfest.

Photo of Asad Ali Jafri

As an artist, Asad plays and blends soulful, spiritual, and, of course, funky music from around the globe as DJ Man-O-Wax. Asad also often directs and tours with a rotating group of performing artists and musicians. One of Asad’s signature productions as an artist is Turntable Dhikr – a spiritual and visual sonic meditation on the Divine. Asad has performed and created as an artist across five continents. Asad engages, connects, and builds relationships amongst people wherever he goes. He facilitates holistic youth workshops, leadership programs for artists, and community dialogue sessions with the goal of creating positive and intergenerational transformation across physical, social, economic, and cultural barriers.

Photo of performance by Priya Srinivasan
Photo of Priya Srinivasan

Priya Srinivasan is an artist and scholar committed to questions of decolonization and interdisciplinary feminist performance. She is trained in classical and contemporary Indian and Asian arts from Dr. Chandrabhanu (OAM) and the late Geoffrey Goldie, who informed her ideas on queer, migrant, and minority art. She received her Honors from Monash, MA in Dance at UCLA, PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and tenure at University of California, Riverside. Her award winning book “Sweating Saris: Indian Dance as Transnational Labour” inspired her hybrid talking-dance lecture-performance presented at Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, Oxford, etc. For this she worked with Ramya Harishankar’s dance company “Arpana“. In China and the Netherlands she worked with the Indian Embassy using art as a soft power approach to cultural diplomacy. She works with Carnatic singer Uthra Vijay to share her work in international festivals, such as Mapping Melbourne, Jaipur Literary Festival, AsiaTOPA, The Berlin Wall Memorial, Hermitage Museum, Typografia Gallery, Immigration Museum, and Dancehouse. She toured with the Indigenous/Indian feminist multi disciplinary collaboration of Churning Waters for Australia Festival in India in 2019. Currently she is Associate Professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute of Citizenship and Globalization in Melbourne.

Photo of Uthra Vijay

Uthra Vijay is the Artistic Director of Keerthana School of Music in Melbourne that she founded in 2003. She is an award winning artist, composer, concert director, and educator, working with classical music and experimenting with non-classical forms. She trained with legendary singer and guru S.P. Ramh (from the Lalgudi School). She has also composed and sung for dance in classical and contemporary performances for Mapping Melbourne, Jaipur Literary Festival and AsiaTOPA. She has worked on site specific performances and “Talking Dances” with dancer/choreographer Priya Srinivasan and Iranian, Yiddish, Surinamese, Flamenco and Indigenous singers in Melbourne, London, Hamburg, Berlin, Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Photo of performance by Ramya Harishankar

Ramya Harishankar is the artistic director of the Arpana Dance Company, a premier school of Bharata Natyam in California. Born and raised in Chennai and New Delhi, Harishankar is a senior disciple of legendary gurus, Swamimalai S. K. Rajaratnam and Padma Bhushan Kalanidhi Narayanan. Harishankar is a founding Board member of the Ektaa Center, one of a kind cultural space for Indian arts in S. California. Her performing and teaching career spans more than three decades, four continents, and hundreds of students. An artist on Segerstrom Performing Arts Center‘s Arts Teach roster, she has been sharing her art with school children since 1989. As a choreographer her 15 + productions have raised over $100000 for charities worldwide. In 2012, she was awarded the Kala Seva Bharathi award by Bharat Kalachar for her contribution to Indian arts abroad. In 2007, the 25th anniversary of Arpana was recognized with several citations and awards including the Helene Modjeska Cultural Legacy award. ADC under her direction has performed extensively in the US, Europe, India and Japan. Harishankar and ADC have received several grants from the California Arts Council and Alliance for California Traditional Arts. She is also a two time National Endowment of the Arts’ Choreographic Fellow.

Photo of Ramya Harishankar

Harishankar’s forte is abhinaya. Committed to her roots, she also explores new ways of communicating through dance. Sangam (1997) and Triveni (1998) featured collaborations with Taiko drummers, Persian musicians, Flamenco dancers/musicians and an Indo Jazz band. Ganga…life as a river (2005) drew from archetypal symbols of the Ganga as Woman and Goddess. An interactive multimedia duet between Harishankar and Priya Srinivasan, “Sweating Saris: Indian Dance as Transnational Labor” (2016) explored how performance as research can come alive from page to stage; it touched upon the history of Indian dance in the US from 1880 to the present in relation to restrictive anti-Asian immigration policies (between 1924-1965). Along with Srinivasan, Harishankar has hosted 4 iterations of “Dance Conversations” a symposium bringing together diverse nationally and internationally renowned dance/theatre artistes, musicians, scholars, writers, critics and the community.

Photo of Teri Skillman-Kashyap

Teri Skillman-Kashyap was raised in India and studied the Jaipur style of Kathak with Chandini Tripathi. After the completion of her B.A. in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University, she attended the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for her M.A. and Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology. Teri is a recipient of a Fulbright Research grant to study Kathak with Munnala Shukla (Lucknow Gharana) at the Kathak Kendra in New Delhi and simultaneously, conducted research on Bombay Hindi Film songs for her master’s thesis in the Archive and Research Center for Ethnomusicology and the Sangeet Natak Academi in New Delhi. She studied hula first with Hoʻoulu Cambra and Edward Kalahiki (Maʻiki Aiu Lake style) and then, as haumana in Noe Zuttermeister’s hālau.  Funded by the John Young Graduate Research Award, Teri’s dissertation focused on the Merrie Monarch Hula competition in Hilo, Hawaiʻi.

Photo of Teri Skillman-Kashyap

As an educator, Teri has taught in international schools in New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi. As an Arts Administrator and Public Ethnomusicologist, Teri has worked as a consultant with the HI State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the NJ Performing Arts Center, Asia Society, the World Music Institute, and the Folklife Festival. She has held several positions at the University of Hawaiʻi as program specialist for the Center for South Asian Studies, Museum Studies, Historic Preservation Program, and as the Curator/Communications Coordinator for Hamilton Library. Teri is passionate about building bridges through the arts, decolonizing colonial institutions, and elevating voices in the community that speak truth to power. Teri currently works at the King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center.

2018 E Ola Na Mele Lāhui


2013 TEDxMānoa (8 videos)

2012 TEDxMānoa (16 videos)

Abstract image by Jhalak Kara Miller

Jhalak Kara Miller is deeply interested in the vibration of silence, forms that heighten awareness to be present in the moment, and acts of listening. She is an international dance and video artist, choreographer, improviser, dance educator, and yoga practitioner. Exposed to classical, modern, postmodern, and contemporary dance training from childhood through teen and young adult years, Jhalak trained at Juilliard in New York, and began working as a dance professional there in the early 1990s as well as served as the artistic director of the NYC based dance company and studio Omega. In the mid-2000s Jhalak moved to California and collaborated with dance and video artists touring extensively. She has also choreographed for feature films.

Photo of Jhalak Kara Miller

Jhalak now resides in Hawai‘i where she is an Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. She creates with dancers locally and internationally at U.H.M. and through her company Jhalak Dance, offering workshops, performances, and installations. Her creative works and movement research have been presented internationally in Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Pacific. She served on the dance faculties of the University of California, Irvine, California State University, San Marcos, and Mira Costa College prior to U.H.M.  Dr. Miller holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from the University of California, Davis, the M.F.A. in Dance from the University of California, Irvine, and the B.F.A. in Dance from The Juilliard School, New York. She is a recipient of the the Po’okela Award for Choreography, and, the Jacob K. Javits Arts Fellowship for her Dissertation “Re-imagining Modern Dance as Transnational Phenomenon Through the Lens of Yoga.”


Cover photo of Country of Bodies, dance
Photo of Maria Teresa Houar

Maria Teresa Houar is a choreographer, dance educator and researcher. She is the former head of the Contemporary Division at The Danceworx Performing Arts Academy Mumbai, under the direction of Bollywood choreographer Ashley Lobo (celebrity host of “Dance, India, Dance!”), and while in Mumbai she founded a service and scholarship dance program for the Reality Gives Organization, an NGO that promotes education and empowerment to the people of Dharavi.

She is also the choreographer of the short-film “Country of Bodies: Bombay in Dance”. Maria Teresa holds a MFA in Dance from Mills College in Oakland, BA Cum Laude in Art History for CSU Chico, and is also the recipient of the American Dance Guild Award for Choreographer-Educators from Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. She also organizes “Toast and Jam”, a contact dance festival which seeks to foster cultures of sustainability across diverse dance and movement practices. Most recently her evening-length work “Baby Shampoo” was featured as part of the UH Manoa Late Night Theatre series.

Photo of Arati Shroff

Arati Shroff is a career U.S. diplomat and is currently based in Honolulu, Hawaii as an Una Chapman Cox Fellow and East-West Center Adjunct Fellow.  Beginning in July 2019, she will serve as the Deputy Economic Counselor at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). Prior to her current assignment, Arati advanced and implemented U.S. economic policy at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, China. Arati previously served in Washington D.C. in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asia, in the Economic and Consular sections at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, and in Taipei, Taiwan.  Arati has been awarded the State Department’s Superior Honor Award and Meritorious Award multiple times.

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Arati serves as an advocate for international women’s issues and is an advisor to the Ladies Who Tech Asia Chapter and Board Member of the International Professional Women’s Society. While at U.S. Consulate Shanghai, Arati lead a team to advance gender equality in China and collaborated with local and international organizations to promote female entrepreneurship. She helped expand awareness in China about gender-based violence, launching of a UN Women-hosted forum on the implementation of China’s landmark anti-domestic violence law. During previous postings, Arati helped propel a multi-stakeholder approach for worker safety for Bangladesh’s garment workers, predominantly women.

Previously, Arati worked as a finance professional in New York and Hong Kong and was a consultant with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation in India where she helped female small medium enterprises access to start-up capital.  Arati earned a B.A. from the Johns Hopkins University and an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). She is a recipient of the Johns Hopkins Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and researched the plight of women in India and China affected by HIV/AIDS in the late 90s.

Photo of militant groups

Andrea Malji is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Chair of the International Studies major at Hawaii Pacific University. Dr. Malji received her PhD in 2015 from the University of Kentucky. Prior to working at Hawaii Pacific University she served as an adjunct instructor at Transylvania University. Dr. Malji was also previously employed as an anti-money laundering analyst in the Finance industry in Connecticut and an English teacher in China. Outside of teaching and research, Dr. Malji also serves as an advisor for HPU’s Model UN team.

Her research focuses on political violence, colonialism, geography, Hindu Nationalism, and gender in South Asia. Her dissertation examines usage of political violence by ethno-nationalist groups in Central and Northeast India. Dr. Malji’s recently published works discuss the impact of Hindu Nationalism on International Security. She is currently working on projects related to communal tensions and the rise of cow lynchings.

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Dr Malji has been awarded a NEH funded research grant to examine why women join militant groups in Sri Lanka and India. Her research in Sri Lanka will speak with women that were members of the LTTE to examine their political identity and attitudes in the post-conflict setting. In India, she will investigate why women join Hindu militant organizations like the RSS. This research seeks to center women’s voices and experiences rather than traditional approaches that focus on women as silent victims.


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Azeema Faizunnisa Vogeler has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Hawaii and an MA in Population Studies from Australian National University. She is a specialist on gender and youth of Pakistan, especially on topics pertaining to women’s rights and health, maternal health, youth, and schooling. She has taught for more than 5 years in the United States and Pakistan. She has also worked extensively with reputed iNGOs for several years in Pakistan. Born to ethnic Bengali parents, she was raised in Pakistan, and is married to a native Hawaiian.

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Her interest in gender, especially in young women, germinated from her personal as well as professional experience in Pakistan. She has observed and researched the interplay of gender with poverty, culture, and location in determining major life outcomes. Currently she is working on a podcast series highlighting stories of women from Pakistan who have broken the glass ceiling in male dominated fields. The idea of this podcast came from a book project which aims to document the lives of Pakistani women who have been successful in carving a space for themselves in careers, professions or passions which are either considered “masculine” or women are discouraged from them due to societal norms of purdah and honor. Like the book, this series plans to compile the journeys of women of Pakistan who despite structural barriers of patriarchy, poverty, and lack of support have been successful in their chosen careers and paths. Their stories need to be documented and highlighted to encourage and empower others in Pakistan, and also to foster cultural diplomacy throughout the world.

Photo of exhibit by Nisha Pinjani

Nisha Pinjani earned her Bachelors in Design at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan. Her MFA in Studio Arts was from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Pinjani is a repeat recipient of East West Center awards, and the Shore Hodge Lipsher Memorial Award. She has also received John Heide Fellowship in Art Fund, Jagdish P. Sharma Memorial Scholarship, and the John Young Scholarship. Pinjani has shown her work in multiple group exhibits in Pakistan, USA, and Australia.

Profile photo of Nisha Pinjani

The focus of Pinjani’s research has been on the daily lives of middle class South Asian women, navigating public spaces in its metropolitan cities. Within her art practice, she draws from her experiences of how she inhabits public and private spaces and relies on research from other South Asian scholars interested in gender, urban space, and the right to everyday life. Pinjani is interested in how gender is interwoven in demarcations between and connotations of public and private spaces, leading her to deeply examine what private spaces and boundaries mean to women for whom unconditional access to public spaces is still a fantasy. Within Pinjani’s art practice she investigates “phenomenal boundaries”, a term coined by sociologist Bridget Purcell, that is, the boundary not as “real”, but as experienced and constituted (or not) by its inhabitants. Her aim is to think about place from the lens of gender and discuss phenomenal boundaries that women create to feel safer in public spaces, as well as the phenomenal boundaries of fear that women experience when they step into a public place. She is interested in women who transgress and negotiate these barriers to claim agency while also examining how the many boundaries women create to access public space, are in fact fragile and can easily be disrupted. Her work highlight’s the everyday labor women invest to transgress certain phenomenal boundaries while maintaining others.