Mathushaa Sagthidas: Shaping South Asian identity through photography

Subhasini Naicker Wednesday 22nd May 2024 06:16 EDT

Mathushaa Sagthidas, a fashion photographer, explores her Tamil Eelam ethnicity and British nationality through her work, delving into themes of identity, authenticity, and representation. Influenced by her parents' experiences during the Sri Lankan civil war, Mathushaa's upbringing led her to deeply engage with her ethnic culture, traditions, and heritage. Through her exhibition "Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian," Mathushaa Sagthidas challenges stereotypes and celebrates diverse traditions and histories through striking photographs and powerful storytelling. Recently, she was recognised in Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe 2024 in art and culture.

In an interview with Asian Voice, Mathushaa spoke about the South Asian elements in her photography, recognition in Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe 2024 and more. 

How do you approach the portrayal of South Asian elements in your photography, and what messages or stories do you aim to convey to your audience?

I approach the portrayal of identity, tradition, history and cultural elements in my photography through understand lived experiences and authentic perspectives, that is something that is super important to me as I feel like this is how I've been able to learn about my own culture through my parents and it just felt right when I was trying to understand and delve into other South Asian cultures, that I understand the experiences and childhoods of other fellow South Asians. With my focus on representation, honesty, and education, my work aims to convey authentic perspectives of the South Asian community. As a photography graduate, I struggled to find genuine references in various media forms. Thus, I strive to create projects that educate others, especially those outside the community, about our culture through authentic perspectives and lived experiences.

Given your unique perspective as an artist with dyslexia and dyspraxia, how do you navigate these challenges in your creative process and day-to-day work?

As an artist with dyslexia and dyspraxia, I've developed unique techniques to navigate these challenges in my creative process and daily work. Discovering my conditions during my second year of university was relatively late, as most individuals identify them during primary school. Despite this, I've adapted to new learning techniques, albeit with greater difficulty as an adult. However it doesn't mean that it's impossible, it just might be a bit more tricky to adjust in a certain way but I made a lot of changes for my final year of uni which was really helpful as I had a more scheduled approach to university and gave myself a lot of time to write my dissertation for example or just even creating a schedule for the week and that's something that continue doing and helps me manage my time and work. However one thing I have realised is that it's very unique for everybody and how each person handles it to find their own techniques.

How do you see your role in shaping perceptions and narratives surrounding South Asian identity and culture, both within your community and in the broader artistic landscape?

As a photographer, I shape perceptions and narratives surrounding South Asian identity, particularly within the Tamil community. My work focuses on Tamil history and personal experiences with the Sri Lankan Civil War, contributing to the South Asian art scene and offering a fresh perspective on contemporary arts. It's crucial to acknowledge and showcase the Eelam Tamil experience to diverse communities, especially given the significant Tamil population in the UK. In the past year I've been seeing more and more events, exhibitions and musical performances centring around the Tamil community by the Tamil community - it feels amazing to be able to finally have a space that recognises your identity.

How does this recognition of "30 under 30 Europe 2024" list resonate with you, especially in terms of representing your unique perspective as a South Asian artist?

Getting the notification and email saying that I'm on the list for this year, something that's only happened just over a month ago is still quite a unbelievable and indescribable feeling and I'm super grateful for the support that I've received and to reached this position where I've been recognised for the work that I've been creating and the projects that I've been a part of. Let's just say I'm still in shock. However in terms of my perspective as a South Asian artist, I hope other creatives to some extent see it as aspiring and see as "if she can make it so can I" but also since being on the less it's been amazing to be able to also find some other South Asia creatives, even some Tamil creators and entrepreneurs that have also featured on the list in previous years and it really means the world to be able to see more people within our community being recognised for the contributions that they are making. 

What are your aspirations or goals for your photography career, and how do you envision your work evolving in the future?

Moving forward, my photography career aspirations include maintaining my current trajectory while effectively balancing passion projects with commercial clients. It's essential to find a harmonious balance between pursuing projects aligned with my values and ensuring financial sustainability for my business. I anticipate my work evolving positively in the future, especially considering I entered the industry during the challenging times of Covid. I'm proud of what I've achieved and the collaborations I've formed, and I'm excited to see what the future holds.

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