தமிழ்மகளிர் தின வாழ்த்துக்கள் meaning "Happy Tamil Women’s Day" by Mathushaa Sagthidas @mathuxphotos
வலிமை & விரிதிறன் meaning "Strength & Resilience", refers to my mum's strength and resilience of her journey. From surviving a war to struggles of immigrating to beginning a new life and family. These precious objects are my sentimental reflection of her legacy that my sister and I will carry on - in the centre is my mum's Sri Lankan ID, one of the very few things she was able to bring here and my glimpse into her youth. In the top right corner is a photo from her UK college ID, where she worked on her English speaking and writing skills. In the bottom left corner is the first passport photo she had taken since starting a new family in the UK; next to a piece of jewellery her brother (who helped and supported her when coming to the UK) gifted to me.
மீட்டெடுங்கள் meaning "Reclaim" refers to reclaiming so many aspects of my Tamil roots that I grew up distancing myself from - such as my name to various Hindu influences like Navaratri. Navaratri according to my mum, is a nine-day celebration for female goddesses', Durga who represents strength, Saraswati who represents learning and Lakshmi who represents power. Goddesses I refer to through the colours of their saris - Durga for red, Saraswati for white and Lakshmi for green to emulate these divinities in my Tamil roots and personality.
வயதுவரும் meaning "Coming of Age" refers to a Tamil Hindu tradition that celebrates a young girl getting her period for the first time. The historical belief is that this means the girl is ready to get married and bear children but in my family is just about celebrating become a woman. This idea stems from another project with Tamil Culture discussing my own puberty ceremony and how many Tamil women are against it due to its history, but I wanted to showcase its beauty, its cultural and traditional importance - and for me, it is big part of my journey as a Tamil woman.
My project தமிழ்மகளிர்தின வாழ்த்துக்கள் meaning "Happy Tamil Women’s Day" is a visual celebration of me embracing my Tamil roots and showcasing the story of my roots through my mum’s lived experience too. However, it is also a new beginning of building my legacy. Something that I realised when I was interviewed by Anisha Parmar for her gold stories project, where I spoke about the sentimental and significant gold pieces that me and my family have – she made realise with every experiment and project revolving around my Tamil heritage has been able creating my legacy through tangible objects and visuals, instead of my family’s lived experience just being memories and their stories. Each concept - வலிமை & விரிதிறன் meaning "Strength & Resilience", மீட்டெடுங்கள் meaning "Reclaim" and வயது வரும் meaning "Coming of Age” goes beyond just showing the beauty and aesthetic of Tamil culture. Through this project, the importance of authentic representation has become more and more amplified, especially seeing many outside of the south Asian community treat our traditional wear as casual costumes and ‘not coming from an authentic genuine place’ (i-D, 2019, 0:28). Constantly seeing such cultural appropriation is another aspect that has frustrated but also motivated to show the rich cultural history of these pieces and objects that most see as ‘aesthetically pleasing’. Creating this work has very much been about showcasing and visual reminiscing on every aspect of ‘Tamilness’ my parent has surrounded me with – from their struggles of immigration to understanding important tradition within my lived experience (puberty ceremony). Whilst creating this work I started to create a record of my growth and process since my first ever university project reflects on Tamil culture, ஒரு தீவிலிருந்து ஒரு நகரம் meaning “A city away from an Island”, which was about showcasing my Tamil and London roots through fashion. This decision of putting my work out there has given people of the south Asian community, especially Tamil women ‘affirmation and inspiration’ (Heuchan and Shukla, 2018, p.33), especially seeing/ having my work about my Tamil heritage showcased on billboards across the UK – it’s showing the south Asian community that you don’t need to create work that westernised community can relate to be ‘successful in your integration into white society’ (Blight, 2017) - something that you see within my own work as always reflecting on mine and especially my mum's lived experience as Tamils. My mother is someone, no matter where the environment she is, who maintains and always remember the values, life and memories influenced by her Tamil identity. Through my work I am showcasing the beauty of our community from an authentic perspective and ensuring that all south Asians of every skin tone are represented, especially in a world where colourism and fairness is quite prevalent (Pandey, 2020). Through out this time and especially since the Black Lives Matter movement began, it's has become more and more important to me to ensure that through my work all south Asians/ Tamils of various skins tones feel connected and included.
Since my first ever university project ஒரு தீவிலிருந்து ஒரு நகரம் meaning “A city away from an Island” in my second year, I haven't just learnt so much about my heritage but I feel reconnected to it again because of my creative process. Furthermore taking the time to really understand my mum's lived experience of Jaffna, especially her childhood through collaborating with her on shoots in lockdown, has given me more of understanding of our different lived experiences and positions in society. Growing up in London, despite the racist situations I have faced and the urge to fit into society as a child, it has still been a lot easier especially in terms of educational growth - something that is really important to my parents as it is something that they were not privileged to due to the Sri Lankan civil war.
The pandemic has meant that we have been 'forced' to stay at home, which led to conversations with my mum about topics such as the Coming of Age/ puberty ceremonies, something that I know I would've brushed past as I've already gone through; however having these in-depth conversations instead of just learning or reminiscing on various aspects of Tamil culture has led to some sentimental visual reflections but also growth on both mine and my mum's part, as we've become more comfortable to have conversations about topics that are considered "controversial". Nevertheless, the pandemic did mean that my idea had evolve to the current situation - my original idea was to celebrate all Tamil people of various lived experiences but not just through the models but the stylist and make up artists too. I want to do this to showcase the creativity within the Tamil community but I also feel that this project wouldn't truly represent the Tamil community if "there's no representation behind the scenes" (its.arooj, 2021). Most importantly, I wanted to do for my final project because I knew that there would be a chance to showcase the work in an exhibition, something that would've been an amazing moment for me but also the Tamil community, as we very rarely see the Tamil role models represented in galleries. Therefore moving forward going beyond my studentship and graduation to continue my creative practice, this is a project that I plan to start working on during the summer amongst other collaboration that I have planned revolving around my south Asian heritage. During these three years especially the last two, there have been so many unexpected changes but it has been a learning curve - it has made my artist approach to creativity more adaptable but I have found where my creativity passion lie and what I want my personal projects to reflect.
- Mathushaa, London