"We should look inward to discover our immediate passions," said artist-activist Madame Gandhi, addressing the packed theater inside the SCAD Museum of Art, with her hand on her heart. "What do we care about?"
As part of deFINE ART 2017, SCAD presented two events with Madame Gandhi, the stage name of Los Angeles-based musician and feminist activist Kiran Gandhi. During her opening-night performance, Gandhi shared insights from her own career path and stressed the importance of putting passion first.
After a camp counselor introduced her to the drums at a young age, Gandhi abandoned her "oppressive piano lessons" and took to practicing the drums every day. As she began to identify as a drummer, Gandhi realized her passion for percussion wasn't fully shared by her parents.
"I got the sense — especially from my dad — that drumming was just extracurricular," Gandhi told the audience.
After studying mathematics as an undergraduate student, she landed an internship with Interscope Records, where she began accruing valuable experience in the music industry.
"[My dad] would call me, questioning 'What's the next move? Are you going to get a job?'" Gandhi told the audience. "I said 'Papa, I'm not going to take your calls if they're oppressive.'" At this, several students laughed and clapped in approval.
Post-internship, Gandhi accepted a job at Interscope analyzing Spotify streaming plays. Then, just as she'd been accepted to business school, a chance meeting with M.I.A. led to Gandhi securing a spot as the drummer in London-born Sri Lankan rapper and activist's all-female band.
With grad school approaching and M.I.A.'s world tour about to kick off, Gandhi knew she had to make a choice. She chose both.
"On a Monday I'd go to class, and then catch a 3 p.m. shuttle from Boston's Logan to New York to play the first of five shows," Gandhi said, counting her steps on her fingers. "At 4 a.m. I'd go back to the airport and fly back for class. That was all week long. And it worked!"
As busy as this time was, Gandhi told the audience she felt "focused on her mission."
"I was an artist, traveling the word and getting to make music," Gandhi said. "What else is there?"
Gandhi closed the discussion with two songs from her 2016 EP "Voices," alternating from vocals to percussion and proudly proclaiming "the future is female" at the end of the evening.
The next day, Gandhi returned to the SCAD MOA theater to host a workshop titled "Own Your Voice," about "atomic living," which she explained means using spontaneity more productively.
"Teachers would ask about my 10-year plan," Gandhi admitted to the theater crowd, rolling her eyes. "A 10-year plan? I don't know what I'm doing 10 hours from now!"
Gandhi instructed students to fold a sheet of paper into three panels and number each section. In the first panel, students wrote things that brought them joy. The second panel was for students to write things they disliked about the world. The third panel was to brainstorm ideas on using the passions from panel one to correct the issues in panel two.
Gandhi concluded by encouraging students to revisit their lists and to always work towards their own happiness.
"Don't be afraid to fail," she said, as students and professors alike applauded. "Why do we teach perfection, but not bravery?"