A Different Mirror, is a new multi-disciplinary art exhibition that uses digital to explore women of colour’s perspectives on body image and is curated by blogger and academic Hana Riaz, founder of The Body Narratives. Hosted at Brixton East from 25-27 April 2014, the works of nine women artists of colour will be showcased to “navigate, understand and own our bodies and our embodied experiences”, says Riaz. In the lead up to the exhibition, we are profiling three of the artists who use digital in their creations. Our second artist is photographer Sanaa Hamid.
A photographic series exploring what it is like to live as a young South Asian woman in contemporary Western society, grew out of photographer Sanaa Hamid’s desire to make visible the “incredible” women of colour she has met.
“I’ve seen so many beautiful women of colour who are so inspiring and passionate about the things that they do, and you just don’t see them or hear about them. I feel like I have a responsibility to try and make these women more visible, if I can,” she says.
Called My Body is not your Battleground, Hamid’s work challenges the stereotypes that she comes across daily as a young Asian woman, and represents her frustration over the fact that so many talented and creative South Asian women she knows are rarely given a public platform to express themselves.
“It was a case of me getting fed up at knowing all these amazing women, but not getting to see them anywhere,” she explains. “The amount of people who ask if I’m going to have an arranged marriage; it’s so exhausting to have to deal with questions like that all the time.
“On TV you only see a set number of stereotypes of young South Asian women, such as the oppressed Muslim girl or the secretive teen who pretends to be a good girl but is texting boys all the time, as if her culture is something of a imposition on her. It’s such a ridiculous stereotype to perpetuate as a reality, but people see that and think that’s what Muslim or South Asian girls are like.”
Hamid, who is in her final year at UCA Rochester, studying Photography (Contemporary Practice), was invited to take part in the A Different Mirror exhibition after meeting Body Narratives founder Hana Riaz on Twitter. Social media has been key in the development of Hamid’s work, which she describes as “a visual discussion” that began with a “secret” process of self-exploration in her project Through her Eyes.
“It was me using photography as a backdrop to self-healing, to deal with issues,” she says. “The more I started using my work in this way, the more adamant I became that this is was what I wanted to start doing.”
Hamid’s photographs have been widely shared on social media and numerous young women have contacted her in response to her call for photographic subjects. She has also harnessed the power of social media to raise Kickstarter funds for a recent trip to Pakistan to take more photographs.
She is also part of a network of young female photographers on Flickr who “have grown up together” and have begun showcasing their work – a number of them were recently displayed at the Doomed Gallery exploring femininity. “The shift in the internet along with the whole new wave of feminism means everyone can discuss things a lot more openly,” says Hamid. “Everyone can give themselves a platform. They can start a blog, talk and share it with other people.”
After Flickr, Hamid moved onto Tumblr, which has “been really influential” in her work, she says. “It’s amazing how much people care. I do work and I don’t have any expectation of people to care about it, but so many people can relate to it, and I get so much support.”
Hamid says she was “blown away” by the response to a series of photographs discussing cultural appropriation when she published them online: “It was such a simple thing, which I uploaded onto Tumblr. I then went to sleep, woke up and had thousands of reblogs. People were even getting into a big debate over them,” she says. “Now there’s about 50,000 comments, and so many emails – I’m still getting emails from people saying how it’s impacted them. People were pouring their hearts out to me and I thought – ‘Oh God, I’m just a student’.”
Hamid says that the type of work she does lends itself to being successful on the internet, because images are accessible. People can look at them and form an opinion without having to read something. Also the images can be shared and widely discussed. “In some ways it seems like a fluke, but without the internet no one would know about my work,” she admits.
Interview by Julie Tomlin, co-founder of Digital Women UK.
About the artist
Sanaa Hamid is a British Asian photographer in her final year of her Photography (Contemporary Practice) degree at UCA Rochester. Sanaa often works with the theme of social politics, such as matters of multiculturalism, cultural and religious identity, gender identity and the battleground of body politics, particularly within an Islamic and South Asian context.