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The truth about being a brown artist

For many South Asian creatives like myself, I’m sure it was not the easiest telling your parents that you want to study art at university instead of doing maths. For a period of time I was constantly asked, ‘How are you going to get a job? How are you going to make money and be financially stable?’ It’s understandable for every parent to worry for their kids, but having said this, I just wanted to choose a creative career path and change their beliefs about the arts.

This is something I feel that I have been doing since choosing to study creative subjects such as fashion promotion and photography at higher education. Despite my parents' worries of choosing to study something creative, I surprisingly find myself often referring to and examining my Tamil Sri Lankan heritage and British nationality, which is often reflected through traditions, history and strongly by fashion photography. Studying fashion promotion has enabled me to develop a style rich in cultural and historical references through fashion photography. My shoots often incorporate handcrafted elements through styling, prop making and theatrical settings, something I have loved doing since studying fine art at school.

My creativity, artistic background and work allows me to share my views, thoughts and creativity on the cultures I was raised within and surrounded by; cultures that make me, me. My fashion photography takes a stylistic, yet nostalgic approach toward my cultures, but also raises questions around identity, authenticity and representation. Identity, authenticity and representation are important to me because of my parents’ upbringing and experiences during the Sri Lankan civil war, which took place from 1983 to 2009.. The history of the war, their own personal suffering and experience led me to learn and embrace my culture, traditions and heritage; as people who died due to the war are unable to teach others about Sri Lanka, the way I’ve been taught. From this, I’ve begun to develop a deeper appreciation of my parents' background and felt lucky to learn about their history. This has led to my engagement in a new process of constructing South Asian identity through projects I create.

Whilst working on various projects, learning more about Tamil culture and really further developing my creative skills, I have also had the opportunity and time to work in the fashion industry, as a backstage and front of house photographer for various fashion week events. This is something I feel privileged and enjoy working for, however like any job there are downsides. For me, it was the idea of sometimes being the only brown person in the room; which wasn’t the worst thing as I’ve been able to meet some really talented creatives, but knowing that there is so many talented brown and black creatives other there with a strong interest in fashion, I couldn’t help but wonder why aren’t they here too? Why is there only one or two people of colour in a room full of twenty?

Despite thinking these thoughts and realising the limited amount of creatives of colour you see in the industry, I’m still grateful for having the opportunity to take part in such events, I’m just hoping there will be some changes.

Some of Mathushaa's work:

Mathushaa is a fine art/ fashion photographer based in London and is strongly interested in being surrounded by my Tamil Sri Lankan culture, whilst being brought up in London; and how this had impacted who she is as a female south Asian creative in London.

You can find her on instagram @mathuxphotos


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