55 CANCRI E: Featuring Shebani Jeyakumar

Shebani Jeyakumar

1 December 2022

I Am Ashwin


This blog post was provided by Shebani Jeyakumar as part of the We Bleed the Same Masterclass program. The WBTS Masterclasses brought together seven outstanding ANU students to learn about how art can be used as part of a campaign against racism. The Masterclass launched these artworks at the 55 CANCRI E Exhibition in Novemeber 2022.

Artist's Statement

“N-WORD” “COTTON PICKER” “MONKEY” – these are are just some of the horrific racist slurs that my fifteen-year-old brother Ashwin has been subjected to in school.

For most of his life, Ashwin’s been judged by the colour of his skin by people of all ages at schools, swimming pools and train stations. At fifteen, Ashwin says, "I just shrug it off. It’s normal when bullies at my school call me the n-word, cotton-picker and monkey. And they get away with it." While he shrugs off these incidences, they've stopped him from choosing his favourite subjects because he was forced into silence by his racist classmates constantly yelling slurs at him. When he first told me about his encounters with racism, I was devastated and knew I could not be silent.

My artwork ‘I AM ASHWIN’ explores my younger brother’s struggles as a Sri Lankan boy facing racism in Australia. The number ‘15’ is the age my brother is experiencing racism on a daily basis, inspiring me and others with his strength and resilience at such a young age. The stylising of my artwork aims to show younger audiences how racism affects someone their age and the power Ashwin has to stand up and share his story. In the photos I took of Ashwin, I wanted to capture his determination to face the racists and his school, which has let my brother and family down with their inaction.

Ashwin is more than the racist experiences he faces. He's a strong and passionate sportsman who plays soccer, cricket and basketball. When I asked him how he manages to face all the racism, he courageously said, “I’ve always felt, why have I been treated like this because of by the colour of my skin? Then I’m like, I’m just going to stick to me and how I present myself because I’m always going to be Sri Lankan no matter who says what.” I asked Ashwin what he wanted people to feel when they looked at the artwork he’s featured in, “I hope that students going through the same experiences feel empowered. To know that they’re not alone.”

For me, sharing my brother’s story has given my entire family the confidence to call racism out. I hope to un-normalise the racism he’s gone through and show him the empathy he should have received from every single person who has failed him at that school. I’ve also discovered the power of pulling out these racist experiences from under the rug and sharing it in all its ugliness.


Shebani Jeyakumar is a second-year Law/PPE student at the Australian National University. Born in the United Kingdom, she moved to Australia when she was six years old with her older sister and younger brother. They grew up in Pendle Hill, Sydney. She identifies as Sri Lankan Tamil, but also as Australian.

Shebani and her family have been subjected to racism throughout their lives. “My first encounter with racism was in Year 4, when several Sri Lankan boys told me I was so dark, pretending they couldn’t see me. I had no idea I was experiencing racism, unable to fathom that people in my own community could turn against me.” For the nineteen-year-old, racism has become a normalised part of her life. She faced even more racist encounters, microaggressions and the overwhelmingly uncomfortable feeling whenever she walked into a room with no one that looked like her.

“When I moved to Canberra, I realised that the feeling of ‘the other’ existed everywhere. I needed a platform, a voice to make positive change. When I first heard about the We Bleed the Same master classes offered at the ANU, I knew this was a chance to get Ashwin’s story out there, like many of the amazing people featured in the We Bleed The Same exhibition. I was given the opportunity to share his racist experiences for the first time on SBS TV. It was an enriching experience that gave my brother the hope he needed to feel more comfortable and open in sharing his story. He even agreed to let me photograph him in Tim Bauer’s professional photographic studio, an empowering experience that changed his perspective on the racism he went through. Perhaps now I can show my brother that people care about him and what he’s going through isn’t normal.”

Image gallery


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