Interview with Mathushaa Sagthidas

Mathushaa Sagthidas is a London based freelance photographer, stylist, set designer and art director with interest in fine art and contemporary fashion. Mathushaa’s work often examines her identity - Tamil Eelam ethnicity and British nationality, which is reflected through traditions, history and fashion photography. We caught up with Mathushaa to talk about creativity, the inspiration behind her personal project 'Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian', and living and working in the city.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm a London based freelance photographer, stylist, set designer and art director (studied at Camberwell College of Arts, UAL) with interest in fine art and contemporary fashion. My work often examines my identity - Tamil Eelam ethnicity and British nationality, which is reflected through traditions, history and fashion photography.

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 ethnic culture, traditions and heritage more and more. ​

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in photography?

I initially started off studying art/ creating art ever since I was a child, the photography aspects of things was super unexpected - I think it was just before I was considering university, I decided to a foundation to really figure out what I want to take forward creatively in the future and doing fashion promotion, I started experimenting with fashion photography and haven't really looked back since.

How would you describe your design style?

I think in three words I would describe it as fashion, culture and community.

What is your creative process?

Honestly it does vary from project to project - sometimes it will taken months of planning - creating mood boards and having meeting with various creatives and then sometimes it would just be an idea that I just create on the spot if I have everything that I need.

How much does your city and surroundings affect your creative output?

For me it depends on the project, some of my work really does revolve around identity, sometimes even a dual identity as many of the creatives I've worked have been born and raised in London like me and that's where the London culture plays into my work. 

Photograph from the India Collection by Mathushaa Sagthidas Caption

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like London?

As a freelancer and especially as I've just finished my first of this since graduating last year, I think my struggle has been trying to find that work/ life balance as well as having the chance to be creative whilst not burning myself out.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that still evident in London?

I think there has been more opportunities, especially for those who are from a POC background/ heritage however I do think there is still work to be done as someone who had the chance to be on some commercial sets, I can't help but notice the lack of women/ POC creatives on some of these shoots.

What project have you done that you enjoyed working on the most and why?

I think my personal project, Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian - this is because it is a passion project and has been something that I've wanted to create and work on for a while - it gave me the chance to really connect with more and more South Asian women making it in the industry whilst giving them the chance to tell their experiences from an authentic perspective.

Photograph from the Afghanistan collection by Mathushaa Sagthidas

Sounds very interesting. Could you tell us a bit more about the project?

Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian, focuses on the lived experiences and beauty of some really incredible South Asian women as well celebrations, traditions and history of south Asian countries from a female perspective. As Eelam Tamil Woman, like most other south Asians just made the assumption I was Indian as if that's the only country to exist in South Asia and I feel our cultures and traditions are classed as one (hence the name). It was as if I was made to feel that my 'appearance' didn't seems to fit the expectation of what some outside and even with in the South Asian community believed a Tamil woman should be. Working with SA woman from their respective countries, I wanted show parts of their stories and culture from an authentic perspective - to give them a space and chance to celebrate who they are and everything they have been raised around; especially during South Asian Heritage Month to really amplify these stories.

Each country focus on different aspects of it's culture. For India, we focused more on the celebration of Holi by letting the models create a Rangoli pattern (colourful patterns made out of white and coloured rice powder) - something that they would do for festivals, given that all girls in shot are creatives it made sense to given them the chance to do this; Bangalesh focused on showcasing the beauty and celebration of their New Year - Pôhela Boishakh - fully traditional food and drinks that brought back some nostalgic memories for them; Afghanistan focused on celebrating family and little things, the girls in shot (who are also cousins) would do growing - such as have tea and catch up or even dance; Pakistan focus more on beauty traditions such as the influence or hair oiling and wearing Kajal; Nepal focuses on sisterhood but also the influence of caste in their culture - such as having traditional wear that reflects the caste their families are from; Sri Lanka/ Tamil Eelam focus more on the life of our grandmother and the way life was like for them back home whilst highlighting/ showcasing the beautiful differences between Tamil and Sinhala culture.

Photograph from the Tamil Eelam Collection by Mathushaa Sagthidas 

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why?

From the top of my head I can't think of anyone but I have had the chance to work with some really incredible creatives when I was working this platform C.LAB where I had the opportunity to work alongside another photographer that I never thought that I would get the chance to work with to create something really exciting - which will be coming out next year!!

What do you do to switch off?

I would be watching some Netflix and if I get the chance draw which I do find relaxing or for me it would going out with friends - I'm a big extrovert.

What does home mean to you?

Simple home to me is comfort, ease and rest.

Describe the perfect day for you in London. 

The perfect day for me would probably some sort of activity - maybe a gallery visit and dinner - something quite chill after a busy week of working.

Which professional or personal goals would you like to achieve?

Within the next year I would like to keep progressing with my career  but also taking part in more creative projects/ passion project which also have brands involved.

If you weren’t living in London and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

I've always said New York and I think it because of their creative scene/ industry opportunities - something that I'm really curious about.

I've always said New York and I think it because of their creative scene/ industry opportunities - something that I'm really curious about.

london by Mathushaa Sagthidas 

A selection of places in London - recommended by photographer, Mathushaa Sagthidas. See Mathushaa's citylikeyou profile page here.

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