Aditi wearing a Rajasthani block print dress by Inde Rooh.
inspired by Frida Kahlo’s marvelous headdresses.
In this series I wanted to capture the intimacy and bond between a big and little sister within the South Asian community. Family, and being close to family is prioritized and emphasized in the culture. It is about having someone by your side when society challenges you as a brown girl. It is about having someone who has faced the challenges before you, be a support and guide for you.
Kiran & Keerit.
Keerit, younger sister: ”Having an older sister in any culture is to have a role model and someone to look up to for inspiration and often for support. Specifically in South Asian culture it means I get to have someone who will experience all the struggles of being a brown girl a few years ahead of me and is able to support me and help me in ways she wasn’t helped. My sister is such a passionate and intelligent brown woman and I have always felt that we feed off of each others energy and are each others shoulders both for crying and for piggy back rides.”
Kiran, eldest sister: ”Daughters aren’t favored in South Asian culture traditionally, so I feel lucky to have a family that embraced my sister and I and support us in everything we do. To be and to have a brown sister is to have an experiential parallel through every phase of life, and I feel so lucky to have mine. In her own way she lives in the same place with the same people as I do and experiences the same struggle and hardship and progress and growth I do, being a brown girl in the diaspora. We both balance what is means to be a Punjabi Sikh and what it means to be American in our lives and I have the fortune of having a younger and often wiser best friend to accompany me.”
wish to fly.
Among these 10 photos is a short story of a runaway bride. Running away from marriage, running away from abuse, running towards freedom, and wishing to fly. Throughout this story, you will find symbols of domestic abuse. I urge viewers to take their time, look at each photo carefully, and take something from each in relation to domestic violence. I paired some of these photos with poems written by, Pooja Kini.
This project is dedicated to all the women who were forced to suffer silently. Domestic abuse is often an ignored topic in South Asian culture. The husband’s parents don’t want to admit their son is abusive, or they believe that the wife deserves it, but either way they remain silent. The wife is threatened if she ever dares to defend herself or seek help. In some instances families partake in honor killings where women are killed for wanting to marry someone of their choice or refuse to give up their basic rights to control their own lives. They may also partake in dowry deaths where the women is often murdered, abused, or driven to suicide by her husband’s family because they were unhappy with the dowry.
With this project, I am raising my voice for the brave and strong women in my life who have been through domestic violence, and for the women back in Pakistan and India who aren’t able to tell their stories.
“I raise my voice-not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard… we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” - Malala Yousafzai
TRIGGER WARNING- The following photos are a depiction of domestic violence and may be triggering for those who have experienced mental, physical, or emotional abuse. Viewer discretion is advised.
leo & aditi.
shot on Ektar 100 & digital.
self portrait with rings of my grandmother and mother. Yes, the rings don’t fit me..
This photoshoot is dedicated to all the South Asian women out there who are often underrepresented in media simply because the color of their skin doesn’t fit South Asia’s unreasonable, fair&lovely, eurocentric beauty standards. As we all know, colorism is huge in India and Pakistan. Our society has come to the point where people talk about fighting oppression and uplifting women, but no one actually does anything about it. In this photoshoot I wanted to help represent darker skinned girls in the media, and address an issue through fashion photography.
I’ll start with an introduction to these wonderful ladies. In the first set of photos we have Anita Kalathara who is an actress and whose family is from Kerala. A little fun fact about her is that she played young Mindy Kaling in the pilot of The Mindy Project. Alongside her is Maya Chakra whose family is from Bangalore and Hyderabad. Maya is a reiki and Qi gong practitioner. In the second set, we have college students Rushika Patel, Shreya Tumma, and Nidhi Bandrapalli. All these girl’s families come from different parts of India: Gujarat, Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh, and Hyderabad, respectively. This is shown through their outfits where they are wearing more traditional styles specific to their states. All of these girls did the photoshoot with confidence, beauty, and glow.
Not only did I photograph these girls to represent them more in media, but I did this because i am lighter skinned, and just because an issue like this doesn’t affect me, doesn’t mean that i should or am going to stay silent about it. I have light skin privilege and I want to use it for the good by helping others.
Little girls grow up with their mothers bantering them about their skin color and how a man would never want them because they’re too dark. This does not help a girl’s self confidence, and it’s important to teach them from a young age that they’re beautiful and worthy in order to prevent them from being a self conscious teen. It’s also important to teach other girls that are lighter skinned to support these girls. In high school, a South Asian boy my friend had a crush on said that she was “too dark” and basically implied that’s the reason why he wouldn’t want a relationship with her. Comments like these are what destroy girl’s self confidence, especially when they’re young, vulnerable and lost. Support and help your sisters!
With the rise of young South Asians taking their pride in jewelry and colorful clothes to Instagram, it’s important not to romanticize the culture. Every culture has it’s good and bad, and although it's totally fine to appreciate and be grateful for the good, we shouldn’t be silent about the bad especially if we are privileged. While our own South Asians are constantly romanticizing our culture, but not acknowledging it’s dirty laundry they are also promoting social marginalization. Women are treated horribly, LGBTQ isn’t a thing (especially in Pakistan), and more of our afro-south asian brothers and sisters are murdered on the streets the longer we stay silent. Instead of bringing light to these issues, our culture keeps quiet.
Lastly, an artist disclaimer: When approaching this photoshoot I did not want to objectify darker skinned girls nor become some sort of lighter skinned Pakistani “white savior”. Neither did I want to benefit from this project in any way. I simply wanted to help bring representation of darker skinned girls into the media, so that somewhere in the world, when a girl of the same skin color comes across these photos, she too can feel that she is a work of art.
“People ask me what are you and who are you then automatically choose to identify me as Indian because of my looks. When you do that you erase my history and the history of millions of girmits/coolies who’ve been taken from their mother and shipped off to different lands. I don’t know where in South Asia my ancestors are from, but I am part of the South Asian diaspora. I am Indian and I am Fijan. All of my identities are valid and all of my history makes me who I am. We are a lost history, an untold story which is time to be brought into light.”
Throughout the shoot we talked a lot about how no one really talks about how millions of Indians were sent to different British colonies to work on little to no wage under poor working conditions. It’s almost as if people have swept the Indentured Labor System under the carpet a few decades ago. Not every South Asian is going to be fair skinned with straight hair, eating jalebis and rotis, or listening to Bollywood music on weekends. Indian culture has spread to other countries and blended with other cultures.
Starting in 1834, the British Colonies targeted people in rural India to use and transport them as indentured labour workers. They were taken to places such as Fiji, Trinidad, Malaysia, and South Africa. Many of the indentured workers were illiterate and could not understand the contract they were signing. However, they were told that they would leave their home for a few years, paid wage, and will be able to return to their home country. Little did they know that these promises were not going to be fulfilled. They were treated poorly on the ship as they were transported, and their working conditions were also severe. They were treated as slaves.
The indentured workers began to assimilate to the culture they were now in while at the same time keeping the culture and traditions of their family history.
It is unfair to invalidate or question someone being South Asian if their family was part of the indenture system. Nowadays, because of Instagram and social media, when a majority of us picture a South Asian girl in our minds then it will be a fair skinned girl wearing a lengha, teeka, and gold jewelry. Similarly when we begin to picture a South Asian boy, he’s is also fair skinned and wearing a kurta. There are many types of people within the South Asian diaspora from Siddis to Indo-Fijans and we need to recognize and represent each.
As an artist whose goal is to help bring representation to all South Asians, it’s important to me to bring awareness to all groups of the South Asian diaspora regardless of if their family still resides there or not.
P.S I kept this informational blurb short, so I do encourage you all to research more about the Indentured Labour System and the entire South Asian diaspora.
“being a child of immigrants has shaped my worldview more than almost anything. Right now, I appreciate the way it affected my childhood because it made me view my parents as people versus “just my parents” at an earlier age than most. I have a deep respect for them and after my angsty teenage rebellious years, I feel like we understand each other and I try not to take them for granted.” -zaara ali khan.