Interdisciplinary symposium will explore transnational Tamil identities

An interdisciplinary symposium hosted by York University’s York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) will explore the theme “Transnational Configurations of Tamil Identities.”

The annual Tamil Studies Symposium, running Sept. 8 and 9, will create a space for interdisciplinary discussions on how transnational Tamil identities have been documented historically and politically, and performed culturally and artistically.

Organizers say what is particularly unique about this year’s symposium is that it will provide a forum for discussions across multiple histories of Tamil migration. This includes colonial and economic migrations, indentured labour and forced displacements.

“These moments of Tamil migration are rarely talked about in relation to each other,” said Nedra Rodrigo (Department of Humanities, York U), one of the founders and organizers of the event. “A critical study of transnational Tamil identity must engage with the issues of which persons and which practices possess the abilities to move or cross and why.”

The symposium includes eight panels, visual and performance art exhibits, a documentary screening and a keynote address by Balasingam Sukumar – the former dean of Fine Arts, Eastern University, Sri Lanka and a performer and historian of traditional Tamil dance forms.

Sukumar’s keynote address, “The Traditional Tamil Dances of Northern Lanka,” will focus on how regional forms of Tamil folk dances from Jaffna shape unique world views through their relationships with communal landscapes, mythologies and music.

The panel presentations are organized to examine the symposium theme from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives. The panel topics include:
• Post-war States, Identities and Memorializations;
• Gender and Diasporic Practices;
• Labour and Economics in the Transnational Context;
• Depicting a Shifting Tamilness;
• Archiving Through Trauma and Transnationality;
• The Enchanted Loom (academic panel on the Tamil play);
• Visual Art and the Idea of Tamilness; and
• Depicting the Tamil Condition in Film.

The artistic works to be showcased at the symposium display the work of performance and visual artists from Sri Lanka and Canada. Shamanthi Rajasingham, an illustrator from Sri Lanka, will display her piece “A Place for Memory.” A group of Canadian artists, The Pulari Collective, will perform an excerpt from “Vadavai,” a performative mixed media installation. Documentary filmmaker Thanges Paramsothy (University of London) will join the event via Skype to discuss his film Punguditivu: A Disintegrating Island, which will be screened at the symposium.

“The symposium is planned with the intention of bringing together students, community experts, artists and international academics to mobilize knowledge for an innovative and culturally rich society with a global sensitivity,” said Rodrigo. “Hosting the symposium in the Greater Toronto Area is especially appropriate given that 80 per cent of the Tamil diaspora outside the homelands of India and Sri Lanka resides here.”

In previous years, the symposium has attracted a diverse and lively audience of local community members, artists and international academics. The symposium organizers strive to create a safe and inclusive space for rich and productive discussions on sensitive and challenging topics.

The Tamil Studies Symposium: Transnational Configurations of Tamil Identity runs Sept. 8 in Room 519, 5th floor, Kaneff Tower, York University (Keele campus); and, Sept. 9 in Transportation Hall, Markham Museum, 9350 Markham Rd., Markham.

For the complete program and additional information, visit

This event is sponsored by the York Centre for Asian Research; the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies; the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation; the Department of Humanities, York University; James Bennet Financial; the City of Markham; and Cahoots Theatre Toronto.