When we think of art we often associate it with the renaissance paintings we learned about at school. However, there is a whole world of South Asian women who are producing art that celebrates everything it is to be brown, beautiful and bold. Take a look at our list below and learn all about the artists behind the art.
My name is Alia. I am a visual artist currently based between London, UK and Bangalore, India. My practice focuses mostly on the photographic medium, however, I also often incorporate illustrations, textiles, collage and moving image in my work. I am half Indian and half Italian but grew up in India for most of my life so the pieces I like to create are heavily inspired by my biracial background as well as Indian folk art and fashion. I love Madhubani and Mughal miniature styles of painting and often reference this in my work.
Photography and visual arts have always been the way I felt I was able to best express myself and communicate with the world. I didn’t realise this at first because as a child it was a way for me to capture a memory and freeze that moment in time. I would often use a cheap point and shoot camera/film that you could buy at the supermarket which would have a very grainy but vibrant effect and that aesthetic is something I continue in my photography today.
Over the last few years, it’s been so wonderful to see so many South Asian artists thrive in the industry, especially because it was something that was rarely seen in the mainstream (western) media. I hope larger platforms in the art and fashion world will start championing the talent in the industry more, especially because it would be amazing to see stories told by brown creatives on a global scale.
I always say that diversity, representation and change has to happen both in front of and behind the lens, especially when telling true, honest stories and representing ourselves and our community in the way we want to be represented. I am excited to be part of the growing movement and can’t wait to see more and more South Asian creatives being spotlighted and uplifted in the near future!
My work is a celebration of my two cultures as a mixed-raced South African woman. It is rooted in historical and personal specifics, but also plays around with the necessary adaptation and transformation of traditions – especially since I have lost full access and documentation to my past through the violent history of colonialisation and the Apartheid regime. Therefore, fictionalisation and storytelling are essential in my work. I merge digital paintings with photo collages to construct spaces where the themes of displacement and distance are met with the abundance and familiarity of food, superstitions, and rituals from my community.
I moved to London at the age of 19 to start studying Fine Art and History of Art at Goldsmiths University. My experience there over 4 years helped me to solidify and grasp onto my cultural identity as I was suddenly the only South African student in my department. My time in London allowed me to appreciate the specificity of my upbringing in Johannesburg, and created an opportunity for me to explore the nuances of my mixed background.
Themes surrounding history, archives, folklore, and family are evident in my work. My practice often explores three categories of Taste, Care, and Protection. Each are expressed through food, traditional hair routines, and ritual beliefs. The artworks capture moments within ritual ceremonies; ones that have been created by merging real, historical elements with fictional features. These fictional ritual spaces represent my creation through my identity – as a woman who has been merged by two cultures, two histories, and two worlds. By combing the real with the speculative, I have found a new way to exist as a mixed-raced woman who often feels like an outsider in my own community. Through my work and the elements of construction and fictionalisation, I am able to assert my identity as something that is not limited to a prescribed idea. Instead, it is constantly transforming and adapting into something new.
My name is Haseebah and I work part-time as a freelance creative facilitator and artist. From graduating in illustration I’ve always been interested in storytelling and I feel teaching through workshops allows me to carry this on. I also enjoy creating paintings and prints that has an aspect of a story with it. My work tends to be in either lino printing or oil paintings as I’ve always enjoyed more traditional mediums and the process it takes to get to the final product.
Being a brown artist I’m the first in my family to pursue a creative career. This already has barriers in itself. A lot of parents just want their child to be successful and doing so in a creative job can be more difficult than most. In the beginning it was harder for me to source creative jobs, as I rarely knew any other brown people who were in the industry so that was a challenge. However, once I started, I soon found many others likes me. There’s a whole community out there online and in flesh. I’ve been lucky to be a part of youth programmes that cater to POC and be part of a diverse city that represents me.
In university I wasn’t surrounded by many brown creatives on my course, in fact I was the only hijab wearer. From this, I created a lot of work regarding my culture in order to connect with it more. I feel like in the art industry sometimes it’s expected for the brown artist to talk about her culture as if it’s the only thing to talk about which can be a problem. My creative goal is to create work that not only reflects me, but the world around me.
My names Rajvi, but most people online and in the creative world call me Shaw. It’s an alias I created, inspired by one of my favourite TV show characters but has now come to mean so much more than its origins. It’s a big part of my identity and I love how from hearing it alone it has a Banksy feel to it, it doesn’t let people judge me upon first impression and you can’t assume anything from it eg. my gender, age, religion, race etc. I like that it has a bit of mystery to it.
I’ve been drawing my entire life, since I could hold a pencil I’ve been in love with both creating and looking at art. My mum, who’s a beautician, would tell me that as a kid I would ask her clients in her waiting room to pay me in exchange for some stick men and flower drawings. I guess you could say I’ve been hustling since day one. I’ve been lucky enough to have very supportive parents who are proud of me for following my dreams.
I call myself a Designer however my creativity isn’t limited to one medium. I’m an Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Industrial Designer and I’m currently learning to animate and create lo-fi hip hop beats in my spare time. I study Industrial Design at Bournemouth University which has been challenging, but has taught me so much. Whenever someone asks me what the course is about, I say that I design anything from utensils, to furniture, to futuristic amphibious cars.
It’s funny because I was supposed to study Philosophy as my degree instead, but the summer of 2017 before starting my first year, I interned at a company as a junior designer for two weeks. I had never done any digital illustration work before that point, so they gave me a week to teach myself some of the Adobe suite and then started giving me tasks. It opened my mind up to a whole new realm of career opportunities and I’m so grateful that God lead me down this path to help me find something that truly makes me happy.
I started freelancing in my first year of uni, after creating an Instagram page for my art as part of website project. I created a logo for myself which was me as a brown Powerpuff girl, one of my favourite cartoons growing up. Once I posted it, my friends started asking to be drawn as their favourite cartoons and it expanded from there with people asking me to create logos, album artwork, custom pieces for clothing and more.
Representation is a big part of my work and drive as an artist. Growing up as an Indian girl in England, there wasn’t anyone I saw in the media that looked and behaved like me. The characters I saw that were brown, were heavily stereotyped and made me push away from my culture rather than accept it. The characters that I looked up to didn’t look like me and this lead to a lot of identity issues and a strong belief that Eurocentric features were more beautiful than my own. After feeling separated from my heritage for a long time, I now feel proud of it and want to learn more about my culture to ensure there is better representation for the future. One of my long term goals is to create a cartoon series where the main character, a brown girl, goes through a spiritual journey and overcomes her inner demons by learning how to balance her chakras to become the best version of herself.
To anyone reading this and interested in pursuing art and design, I would say that the key is experimentation and just creating things that make you happy, even if it’s not ‘perfect’. By letting go of the need to make things perfect you’ll enjoy the process a lot more and it will become more therapeutic. The more you push yourself, the better ideas you’ll have and the stronger your skills will become. Try to observe and analyse as much as possible to create artwork that is unique. To find my style, I studied a lot of different art I found interesting and stood out to me and questioned myself what about it specifically I liked. Was it the colours? The way the faces are drawn? The line work? I question my likes and dislikes a lot and that helps me understand the work better. At this point in time, I’m still nowhere near where I want to be but I believe in patience, trusting the process and working on my craft to reach the top.
Being creative was something that was greatly encouraged whilst I was growing up. My
mum used to spoil me with boxes of colouring pencils, paints (long live Rainbow Art) and
craft kits and I remember spending many happy hours and countless summer holidays with
my head in my sketchbook. I definitely wasn’t the best artist by all means, but I was taught
to express myself and had complete creative freedom, which was a defining feature of my
Fast-forward to secondary school, I was still being my creative self outside of school hours,
and I greatly enjoyed my art and textiles classes. Interestingly enough though, when it came
to choosing GCSEs, I had the impression that I could only choose either fine art or textiles,
because somehow choosing both meant I was ‘wasting’ a GCSE. This mindset stemmed from my South Asian family who, although encouraged my creativity from a young age, failed to see a stable future for me in the creative industries. “There’s not many jobs in fashion” and “you don’t need a GCSE/A-level to do art” were the two things I heard frequently when deciding on my career path.
I faced a similar barrier when choosing my A-levels. I distinctively remember sitting in the
Deputy Head’s office with my mum for the mandatory meeting to discuss my subject
options. I proudly announced that I had selected biology, geography, French and textiles for
my A-levels, only to have the Deputy say that my selection “didn’t make sense”. She
recommended that I dropped textiles in place for chemistry, which I went along with.
After successfully completing my A-levels, I blindly followed the footsteps of my siblings to
the next stage of the education system, university. I studied a degree in Human Geography
at the University of Southampton, where I explored all the topics I was deeply interested in,
like the creation of urban spaces, societal injustices and race and identity. One term that
cropped up in my studies continuously was the concept of intersectionality. Without giving
you a whole essay on this, the term essentially refers to how different identity markers (e.g.
gender, age, religion and ethnicity) intersect to create unique sets of experiences and even
vulnerabilities. I started to reflect on my own combination of identities as a third generation
British Punjabi woman living in London, and the complex negotiation of identities many of
us British South Asians experience, being born and raised in the UK.
This led to a spiral of shower thoughts, with one being, ‘how many generations will pass
until British South Asians just see themselves as British?’. For me, it is a terrifying thought
that there might be a point where all connection to culture and heritage is lost. It is this fear which inspired me to learn how to embroider and create digital artwork, that both explores
my complex identity but also celebrates the beauty of my home culture. What drives me further is something my good friend Farah told me just last week. She told me that seeing me be “unapologetically brown” has encouraged her to do the same and embrace her Pakistani and Indian roots. It was then I understood that the small moves I was making as a creative were actually doing big things for the people around me and that’s what inspires me to continue. I want everyone, British South Asians but also other British ethnic minorities, to feel pride for their culture and multifaceted identities, because ultimately that’s what makes us glow with confidence and become unstoppable.