Ajay Pabial is a London-based queer artist of South-Asian heritage on a mission to shine the light on creatives from culturally diverse backgrounds and LGBT+ intersections. He recently joined one of our 'Who am i?' virtual retreats, and has kindly agreed to share his experience.
Who are you?
My name is Ajay, I’m what you call a multi-hyphenate who’s constantly spinning several plates. I’m an artist, Managing Director and Cultural Strategist!
When I’m not developing my artistic practise as a portrait painter, you can find me delivering culture-led programmes and activities across London. I founded my own not-for-profit Arts Organisation in 2018 – Art Clubbers CIC - to support under-represented young Londoners with accessing the creative sector, as well as consulting businesses to embed diversity and inclusion at the core of its activities.
How did you find yourself doing what you are doing?
After graduating from university in 2016 with a BA in Fine Art, I found myself hitting a brick wall when trying to find work within the sector. I discovered that in fact many art graduates were left navigating the sector on their own. It was clear that we needed to start equipping graduates with employability skills and tools to establish themselves as artists, designers and makers – artpreneurs!
In 2018, I set up Art Clubbers CIC, a not-for-profit Arts Organisation. I wanted it to act as stepping stone into the industry, providing opportunities and support to allow young Creative's the chance to develop and build their skills, as well as put in to practice their talents by taking part in community focused activities and projects.
What have you learnt along the way?
Honestly there’s some many things I could list here it would be endless! The one thing I’ve learnt over the last two years is to always just go for it. When it comes to my career, I never thought i would have been running a company at 24 years old. I’m glad I went for it now, I’ve loved all the work I’ve done, the people I’ve met, and I'm thankful for the experience. It’s allowed to me mature at a pace I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Personally, I’ve learnt how much I held myself back whilst in the closet. Since coming out, I’ve regained a sense of self pride, and that really shows. Friends and family around me have seen me grow into a much happier place. Finding my voice was so important. I know this can be easier said than done, but trust the people around you. Give them a chance and give yourself a change. I’ve been surprised to see such beautiful support around me.
Why did you get involved in the ‘Who am i?’ programme?
I finally came to terms with my sexuality as a gay man in 2018, at that time I had little knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community, what it meant to be part of it but more importantly where do I fit in. Coming out felt like the clocks got reversed, and I could now 're-live' my younger self authentically. However, looking back I really didn’t know what authentic meant for me. In 2020, I found myself reflecting more and more on my journey, questioning who I am as an individual, how or does my sexuality define that.
The 'Who Am I' programme allowed me to explore those questions. For me the biggest eye-opener about coming on such a programme was that I was connecting with other gay men who I wouldn’t necessarily have met through my normal channels and that despite being who they were, what backgrounds they came from we felt the same! It was comforting just knowing that there were others on the same journey I was on, and that I wasn't an anomaly. Defining my identity is a life process.
Did you make any changes off the back of the retreat?
The programme allowed me to learn about what it means to be present. As someone who is constantly spinning multiple plates, it’s always been rare for me to stop and savour the moment, to appreciate and acknowledge the work I’m doing. Since the programme I’ve learnt to become more present within the moment, this has been from small acts as leaving my phone in another room whilst I spend time with family to taking to listening to what my body needs and giving it just that whether, a proper meal or sleep. I’ve made it a goal to celebrate every milestone. 2020 for me was all about emotional, mental and physical change.
What relationship do you have to the LGBTQ+ community?
I identify as a gay South Asian man. Having worked within the creative sector and witnessing the barriers those from minority backgrounds, I made it a personal mission to shine a light on individuals from culturally diverse and LGBT intersections to ensure visibility and community within the creative sector.
My situation is current, and a journey that I've only been on for the last two years. A Capricorn by birth, my natural behaviour is very process driven. I’m a minority within a minority and sometimes it’s quite hard to talk about my experiences as I navigate through my own queerness, my faith and culture. My relationship with the community is finding where I fit in the most, when you find individuals or groups who you complete relate to and have faced or are facing similar life experiences, empathy comes naturally in circumstances like this, relate-ability becomes encouragement and creativity becomes ambition.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re working through?
I want to continue to challenge every aspect within me, my perceptions, my perspectives, projections, anxieties, phobias, what I see as self-destructive patterns and my sense of failure and success. I know as time goes on I will find myself coming in conflict, or harmony with them. The challenge here I guess is to always remain open minded, to learn, to educate and reconcile.
Have you learnt anything new about yourself since the retreat?
I would describe the retreat as a raw confrontation. Our worlds changed in 2020 due to the pandemic and many found themselves in a similar position to myself - on my own and with no escape. The retreat really allowed me to prepare for what’s coming. It highlighted my relationships, and the fact my identity has gone through a metamorphosis. I believe that will continue to evolve, and that it’s okay to embrace that going forwards.
How do you ‘Create Space’?
Through my own organisation I’m always creating space for those who need it the most, I’ve made it my mission to; create an inclusive Cultural Experience, champion Creative Innovation, break down barriers by Creating Opportunities and connect communities through Cohesion and Consultation.
Self-care, self-discovery and personal development will always remain a priority for me. The retreat has taught me to take time for myself, to focus on the mind and body. I found this through regular physical training and taking time for myself for reflection, sometimes a simple breathing exercise is needed, inhaling the noise of the world and exhaling in peace and stillness.
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