Q&A with Mathushaa Sagthidas
We chat to the exciting emerging photographer putting her Tamil Eelam heritage at the forefront of her work
After making waves with her brilliant photo series 'NOT JUST BROWN, NOT JUST INDIAN' photographer Mathushaa Sagthidas has gone from strength to strength. Her use of still life, portraiture and fashion photography authentically showcases the specificity of Tamil culture people and their culture. As her profile has risen she has also dedicated her craft to uplifting the voices of other practitioners intent on uplifting their communities. Her recent collaboration with designer Joy Julius saw her shoot a collection inspired by the Lekki Toll Gate massacre, that culminated in the End SARS protest in Nigeria. She's even recently become the photographer and stylist of MESA mag (Middle Eastern and South Asian). Perhaps most excitingly of all 'NOT JUST BROWN, NOT JUST INDIAN' will be exhibited in the windows of Margate Arts Club as part of this year's Power of Women Festival and Fringe. With all this success still so early in her career, it seemed only right we sat down with her to ask her some key questions about the journey so far.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us! How's the start of 2023 been for you?
In all honesty, manic but manic in a good way for sure. I've got a mix of some exciting commercial and personal projects coming up throughout the year, which I'm really looking forward to and I'm taking somewhat an new creative path and trying push my creative boundaries further this year to actually help build my portfolio in the direction I want it to be at; but also of coursing throwing myself back into the world of freelancing through production, photography and also editing. For me this is my second year of freelancing and when I think back to January 2021, it is slightly crazy for me to think about the changes. The growth and the mindset that I'm in creatively and in times my work compared to then - as for me freelancing was very much a new and confusing path at that point.
You've amassed an incredible array of clients, exhibitions and publications so far. What do you put this down to and how long have you been shooting?
I feel like every photographer or creative you come across will say quite similar things. I would say building my portfolio and coming up with creative concepts/ shoots and consistently shooting have been the few things that I've been doing to help build my portfolio and something that I still do. However when it comes to publications I feel like that's very different to clients and exhibitions. I personally just email over a project overview with a link to a couple of photos as well as credits to magazines that I feel would accept my projects/ or have similar interests. When it comes to exhibitions a couple of them have been through callouts and finding things on social media but a few of them have been through people reaching out/ recommendations. For this I would say social media has been key and searching for open calls and callouts for exhibitions on Instagram or various social media platforms can really help. In terms of clients it can really vary, honestly quite a few have been through someone recommending me/people already knowing me but they are then also a handful that have been through social media and for this I would say things like The dots and LinkedIn have been super key in me finding more opportunities. However in general, I would say networking and going to loads of different creative events really helps put not just yourself out there but also your work as well as getting the chance to meet people you might collaborate/work with in the future.
We were proud to showcase your 'NOT JUST BROWN, NOT JUST INDIAN' project and your Tamil Eelam ethnicity is clearly really important to you. Do you feel like representation and understanding of your background is improving?
First and foremost thank you so much for showcasing such an important project to me and the South Asian community. It was super important to me when it come came to showcasing this project that I did it with platforms that genuinely care about the message behind the project, so very grateful for this. For the second question I would say yes and no, yes in the sense of through the projects and work that I have created, I've come across more and more south Asian creatives and South Asians in general and have found somewhat of a community of people, (especially Tamil which has been amazing) that understand me on a deeper level when it comes to my identity and the impact that has on me as a person as well as artist. However I say no because sometimes this growth of representation and understanding my background and identity further feels like it's only really it within the South Asian community but outside of the South Asian community I feel that there's only been a handful of platforms and companies that I have been supported by but I know that there is so much more to be done and so much more to be taught about South Asian culture from a genuine perspective to those who don't understand but also want to learn.
What've been the reactions to your work inside your community and amongst the wider population?
Their reactions to my work have been amazing and heartwarming - immensely grateful for the support that I've actually received especially through social media and people just coming to see my work it does really mean a lot when people say things like "I can actually really see myself through your work and see parts of who I am and that's something that I've never felt before when going to a creative space or being in this exhibition space" so hearing things like that really means the world.
How would you describe your photographic style from a technical standpoint?
In three words I would say vibrant, cultural and community.
Representation and diversity have become buzzwords in contemporary art spaces, do you ever worry about being typecast in your work?
100% I do sometimes question whether I am being selected for my talent or for being Tamil, but I've been quite lucky in the sense that I've been able to figure out which of those opportunities feel like that before deciding whether I want to then take part in this exhibition or showcase or whatever. When it's an insane opportunity and it does feel like a bit of a typecast, it can be difficult to say no. I know so many creatives have been in that position. You do have that battle of deciding whether you should do it or not. But for me this is where having a South Asian creative community (basically my friends) has played a big part in helping me make those decisions.
Have you got any exciting plans we should look out for in 2023?
Have some exciting creative and commercial projects and exhibitions definitely coming up throughout this year so feel free to follow me on socials and keep an eye out.
Article by Martyn Ewoma
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'NOT JUST BROWN, NOT JUST INDIAN', is a series of photoshoots by Mathushaa Sagthidas showcasing the multiplicity of South Asian women and culture