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Aadhya Wijegoonawardena : The lady behind Brown Paint

By Mahika Panditha

Happy Sunday and welcome back everyone! We hope you are all having a lovely weekend. I would like to take this moment to introduce you to our amazing cover feature today – a young Sri Lankan woman residing in Australia at the moment. You may have seen her on Instagram either for her dancing or through Brown Paint, of which she is the Founder.

Aadhya Wijegoonawardena is a woman of many talents! She has just finished filming an Australian television series that is being produced by both Netflix and ABC, and it is so exciting – we cannot wait to see her on the big screen! At the moment, however, she is working on a musical. She is also a semi-finalist in the Artists of Colour Initiative, which is for emerging musical theatre artistes in Australia.

“Work has been limited, given the almost year-long quarantine in Melbourne due to Covid-19, but I have been blessed to have landed some this year, despite everything, and for that I am so grateful. In the meantime, I have been studying in an acting course to deepen my craft and have been working on writing my own stage show which is yet to be announced,” she told Happinez.

I was curious to know what Aadhya would describe her passions and goals as. In this regard she said: “My passion is creating thought-provoking art that communicates something important and spreads the infectious joy of dancing. I hope that one day my art truly inspires social change. I love people and I believe the best in people. I believe that encouraging more people to simply follow their passions will create a more passionate world and will in turn cure the world. I hope to do this through Brown Paint.

“I would love to further my career in the arts, particularly act more on TV and move on to doing films. I would love to also make music and tour one day, singing and dancing around the world perhaps. I hope that Brown Paint takes off and brings to light these issues within South Asian culture. Most of all, I wish to be a role model for young South Asian people that have a dream and to empower them to follow their calling.”

We are beyond excited to see what Aadhya has in store, but in the meantime, we had the chance to talk to her a little more. Check it out!

Tell us a little bit about yourself before we dive in.

I am a 21-year-old Melbourne-based dancer, singer, and actress working in the film, television, and music theatre industries. I am also the Founder of Brown Paint, a platform that aims to inspire intra-cultural social change and break barriers within the South Asian community by celebrating Brown artistes, creatives, and renegades.

What inspired you to get into dance and how did it all start?

My late mother inspired me to dance. She was a traditional Kandyan dancer and so I feel this gift was passed down to me. Dance was the biggest gift my mother gave me. Even though she is gone, I feel that dance still connects us in a way that words cannot explain. From the minute I could walk, I was dancing and when I turned three, my mother enrolled me in a local ballet, jazz, and tap class. I grew up dancing at a classical ballet school, exploring all styles, from contemporary to jazz to lyrical as well. My ballet school didn’t offer street styles so I began training at an adult hip hop class in the city and immediately fell in love with the hip hop scene and its culture. My biggest strengths became ballet and it’s polar opposite, hip hop. At the age of 16, I decided to start exploring my art professionally and signed with my first agent.

What is your favourite dance style and why?

I tend not to think of dance in styles anymore. After years of dancing, it transforms into more of an amalgamation of movement, which is far more enjoyable than being constrained by a specific style or genre. However, if I had to pick, I would say I enjoy a fusion of hip hop and contemporary, similar to one of my idols, the incredible Lex Ishimoto. I love moving in freedom and dynamics, creating interesting shapes, and pushing my body’s limits. The body is different every day and craves different movements. Movement is truly medicine and if you really listen to what your body needs, you can very literally dance your way out of your emotional traumas. This is why I love movement as it appears in dance styles, because it allows for the intuitive wisdom of your body to kick in.

Any advice for aspiring dancers?

Train, but don’t get lost in the training of it all. Always come back to why you started dancing in the first place, your love for it, and don’t forget to dance with joy first and technique second. Maintain a healthy relationship with your body and its movement. As dancers, our bodies are our instruments, so it is so important to stay in tune with it. When making dance into a career, it’s vital that you remember to dance for fun. Have an occasional boogie in your room and don’t worry about what you look like; simply enjoy it as a felt experience. This is great advice for everyone, not just dancers. Dance is medicine and can be highly therapeutic, so surrender, let the music possess you, and just let go.

You are also the Founder of Brown Paint on Instagram. What is the story behind that?

Brown Paint was born out of my frustration towards my South Asian culture. Growing up, I always felt like the black sheep of the family. I felt that no one accepted those of us that were against the grain: Brown artistes, creatives, rebels, renegades, entrepreneurs, etc. I realised that because the culture rejected me, I rejected the culture, and grew so far away from my sense of true self and ancestry.

Brown Paint was my solution to rebuilding a relationship with my culture, celebrating the beautiful parts, and finally holding the destructive parts accountable. We celebrate Brown creatives and renegades because we believe they will be the ones to inspire this much-needed social change within the culture, through their rebellion, expression, and creative vision. Some of the issues within the culture we address are: Tiger parenting, misogyny, colonialism, beauty standards, representation, mental health, sexual stigmas, and double standards towards women. Brown Paint will soon be launching on YouTube, Facebook, and as a podcast on every platform, including Spotify, Google Play, and Apple Podcasts. So stay tuned.

A new series called ‘Drop Out and Dream’ is also out. What does this series focus on and what do you hope to achieve with it?

As a young South Asian with big dreams, I struggled to embrace my identity as an artiste and dancer and being accepted within the culture. There are unfortunately so many old stigmas that our culture clings on to that will present a great challenge for most young aspiring Brown artistes, and may even discourage a person completely from pursuing their dreams, whatever they may be. This is what I believe is one of the biggest tragedies within the South Asian community; young people giving up on their dreams out of pressure from their community, culture, and family. This is an issue Brown Paint hopes to eradicate.

The overarching message of this series is to never stop dreaming. By this I mean do not put a time limit on your dreams and do not fall into the trap of compromising on your path of happiness out of a need for “security”, especially if that advice is given by someone other than yourself. I truly believe that every single human is worthy of and is more than capable of creating any life they wish to live. Doing anything other than believing in oneself will only eat at one’s self esteem.

Allow your dreams to be as they are, no matter how big or unrealistic they may seem, because you can actually do it, and because you deserve everything you wish to have from this life. That is what the “Drop Out and Dream” series focuses on, as well as how to stop letting others influence your pivotal life decisions, going into depth in abolishing the myth of the “struggling artiste”, and offering practical advice, like on how to provide for oneself as an artiste and how to have a conversation with your family about pursuing an alternative or controversial career path.

What motivates your ideas for content, whether it be informative texts or videos?

My own personal experience and trauma with my culture inspires the Brown Paint content, as well as other people’s personal stories. Many of us have been discriminated against by our own culture for simply expressing or being ourselves, and sharing these messages through Brown Paint has proven to be incredibly healing for myself and many others. For example, coming into myself as a young woman and artiste caused tremendous grief for my Brown family, especially those still living back in Sri Lanka. Since then, I have been able to heal my relationships, especially the one with my dad, which has given me invaluable insight for Brown Paint. Our newest series that is coming out soon is a series about Brown parents and how to heal relationships specifically catered towards our culture and it’s unique quirks.

Where do you hope Brown Paint will be in the next five years?

I hope that in five years Brown Paint will have grown a significant online presence and also furthered its physical presence. I dream to have Brown Paint events and workshops one day, where we bring real parents and children in and get hands-on with healing relationships. I would love to launch a clothing line to empower young South Asian kids living within a diaspora to embrace their cross-cultural identity through eastern and western fusion clothing. I hope to actually go back to my motherland Sri Lanka and other South Asian nations to introduce programmes into their school systems and influence politics. More than anything, I wish that Brown Paint genuinely shifts the mentalities of this current generation, so that one day, our children can live in a loving and healthy culture and be proud of their beautiful brown skin.