100 Creatives

Why Tempe Performance Artist Raji Ganesan Will Stay in the Valley After Graduating from ASU

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 61. Raji Ganesan.

Try putting Raji Ganesan in a box. It's a dare you're guaranteed to fail.

"I consider myself a burgeoning performance artist and culture worker," the 22-year-old says. But those descriptions don't capture all that the soon-to-be Arizona State University graduate does. 

That's because instead of being limited to a narrowly defined medium or process or major, the creative resists categorization at every turn.

She goes on. 

"I am a dancer, trained in the classical Indian dance form bharatanatyam," she explains. Her body is her instrument, whether the medium is contemporary dance, theater, poetry, or stand-up comedy. Storytelling is a key component to her performances, something she describes as a "radical method of writing our own histories, alongside an audience." As such, she blends "the worlds of feminism, diaspora, humor, bordered identities, and improvisation" to create narrative works. 

Ganesan also spends her time teaching classical Indian dance, working with arts incubator nueBOX as an amateur videographer documenting artists' residencies, and being an honors engineering student who's focusing in arts, media, and engineering and graduating this December. 

"More than a 'leader,' I position myself as a fierce collaborator," Ganesan says. "Whether that’s helping coordinate projects and events that make room for people to access their artistic truths, or making time to be a member of an ensemble as well a solo performer, I am energized by the collective creative process." 

And thanks to her current projects, that energy won't quell soon. 

"Part and parcel of feeling compelled towards collaboration means that I exist in a lot of creative containers," she says. "I am fortunate to be connected to so many incredible artists in our community, and have projects on the horizon with Border/Arte and Grey Box Collective. I lift the many thriving artists in our community through my work with ASU’s Performance in the Borderlands and nueBOX. I am so grateful for these organizations, and the sense of being surrounded by capable collaborators and incredible leadership."

Beyond collaboration, Ganesan draws inspiration from what she calls "artifacts from my home." She was born in Mesa, but spent most of her childhood in Austin, Texas, and a couple years in Maryland before returning to Arizona for high school. She expresses gratitude toward her parents, keeping items from their home in the Valley and her family's home in India — plenty of incense, too. 

"These artifacts, and frequent visits/conversations with my parents, who live in Chandler, remind me of my own soil, and allow me to feel the depth of my roots," Ganesan says, "which absolutely fuels my creative energy."

Ganesan plans on staying in the Valley post-graduation, thereby keeping close to family, and "continuing to sink in to the creative spaces that give me energy."

Those include the downtown Phoenix shipping containers, where she'll perform on Third Friday, July 15, "in a dance piece choreographed/shaped by amazing dance-artist Gina Jurek."

Beyond that, there are a couple works without set performance dates. 

"This past semester, I created two solo performances," she says. One was a collaborative piece with Allyson Yoder and Carly Bates called Negotiations, and the other was a solo work, she says. "Both of these pieces are still living and breathing, and there are conversations to share them in new spaces and frames for the fall as well."

The wide world awaits. But Ganesan has already made quite the impression. "I’m only 22, so probably being called 'funny' by Macaulay Culkin and Vince Staples, on different occasions," she says of her greatest accomplishment yet. "Ask me in person for more details."

I came to Phoenix with curiosity, and a hunger to participate in what I felt was meaningful and inspiring.

I make art because art liberates me, and connects me deeply to myself, and my community.

I’m most productive when I have exercised, had a good night’s sleep, and am listening well. Also, preferably when I am not super hungry.

My inspiration wall is full of words and images that I find beautiful, cards and tokens that people I love have given me, and reminders of humor, patience, and gratitude.

I’ve learned most from discomfort.

Good work should always make room for others. In the context of work that I enjoy, I love when someone expresses that they feel more able to confront some aspect of their own lives: past, present, or future.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more people who carpool. Perhaps more broadly, people who are not afraid to share resources, which I think is true for really any community.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott