Bloom, an interdisciplinary performance that combined classical Indian song, dance and poetry with the discussion of sexual assault, took place Friday night in the Duderstadt Center Visual Studio. Hosted by the South Asian Awareness Network and Michigan Sahānā, Bloom promoted awareness surrounding sexual assault and the self-empowerment of survivors in the South Asian community.
Musicians and dancers from Michigan Sahānā, a student association of classical Indian artists at the University of Michigan, focused on the appreciation of the traditional art forms of India.
The director of the event was Anurima Kumar, a Public Health junior and a podcast editor for The Daily. Kumar said the idea of Bloom came when she thought of intergrating traditional Indian dances and the experiences of sexual assault together.
“I had the idea last summer to integrate art with social justice,” Kumar said. “Sexual assault is something the South Asian community doesn’t really talk about much. The dances are all story-telling and I said we should integrate art with the stories and use that as a way to make people know what’s happening.”
Kumar said each dance was themed around telling a different family member about the experience and what those reactions might entail.
“For ‘Dear Dad’, one of the biggest themes was not wanting to make your dad sad,” Kumar said. “For ‘Dear Mom’, it was more thankful for your mom for coming. For ‘Dear Brothers’ it was more ‘why would you want to tell your brother but then you tell him’.”
Sahānā musical performer Sunanda Adibhatla, an LSA junior, wanted to be part of this performance to use her violin, an instrument she has played for years, to help raise awareness of sexual assault.
“I realize that sexual assault awareness is not talked about in the South Asian community,” Adibhatla said. “And that’s one of the places where actually it is misrepresented everywhere. Not many people know what sexual assault is.”
Adibhatla said she uses the violin as a way to express herself and offer her support to the cause of raising sexual assault awareness.
“It is my go-to for expressing myself,” Adibhatla said. “Violin is also one of the more melodic following instruments, which means you can add a lot to the show while not being the star of the show and I think that is very important.”
The performance also included traditional dances and poems inspired by experiences of survivors.
LSA junior Karthik Pittala, president of the Indian American Student Association, expressed his appreciation of the way the performance used dance to draw attention to this issue.
“I think it was extremely well-done,” Pittala said. “I really liked the show overall. I really liked how they used the dance choreography to really animate the stories they were doing. It is another intersection of dance and issue like this that isn’t really talked about. I also liked how the speakers portrayed the stories — like they used dynamic vocals and such. I also like the setting of this place. It is really good to be able to show something really creative like this.”
Pittala said he’d be interested in IASA, which is the second largest student organization at the University, collaborating with events like these in the future.
“We have a branch in our organization called social awareness,” Pittala said. “It is designed for issues like this, mental health, even professional development. Just the fact that this show happened really opened my eyes and really showed that our organization, given how big we are, it can really make an impact by joining with events like this in the future.”
LSA sophomore Sania Farooq, one of the event organizers, explained the event is designed to both educate and open up discussion about sexual assault.
“Our message here is to make people aware of sexual assault and how important it is to our community to address this somewhat taboo topic,” Farooq said. “We thought that incorporating different types of art into one show would really make that impact.”
Farooq said making more resources accessible to students should be the main focus of the University moving forward.
“I think it is something the University has to address first,” Farooq said. “A lot of the times CAPS is inaccessible. SAPAC is a really good source and Wolverine Wellness is a really good source, but they are not as accessible to everyone all the time. So I think the University can really strive to have different types of maybe art, maybe other creative ways of incorporating this idea in our learning just to make more people know about it.”
LSA sophomore Nirja Dave said the South Asian community needs to work on removing the social barriers surrounding sexual assault and mental health discussions.
“In the South Asian community, we are working on this, but there still is and there used to be a huge stigma about how mental health and sexual assault are just not talked about,” Dave said. “It’s not something I have not heard the community openly talked about.”
Dave thinks the performance is a huge step forward, but more needs to be done in the future.
“We are getting there, and I think this is a really big step,” Dave said. “And I also think another way students can help is to make sure to continue spread awareness because issues are going to happen. It’s not like we can make the entire issue go away, but I think when things happen in our community, it’s really, really, really important to be a support network to people and to spread awareness so that at least we can prevent it from happening in the future.”
Kumar said she hopes people understood how common the issue of sexual assault is and what community members should do.
“The biggest thing I wanted people to take away was just knowing that it happens so often and that it can be so simple that we need to hold people accountable and no matter what, we should be aware of that,” Kumar said. “If we see something happening, we should call it out.”
Zayna Syed contributed reporting to this article.