The internet and social media gets a lot of bad press. It is blamed for narcissism, creating damaged relationships and fuelling the over-accessibility of our lives. But I’m a firm believer in the internet as a positive power. The ability to transcend boundaries and share experiences and thoughts, and receive an international response, is incredible – which is exactly what happened with my photographic work. Not to mention you can sit in your pyjamas eating ice cream and cake all day and count it as “working”.
Flashback to last year. I’d just finished my series Cultural Appropriation: A Conversation for a university project, and uploaded it to Tumblr a little absent-mindedly (with a good handful of typos) before I went to bed. I woke up thinking “Ooh, I wonder if it got reblogged?” To my utter bewilderment, there were thousands of reblogs and a full on debate about cultural appropriation raging through Tumblr. To this day, it is still making the rounds. That is when I realised the immense power of the internet. The sheer scale of its accessibility was made very clear, and I was able to engage with hundreds of responses on Tumblr as well as an overwhelming amount of emails.
Now, I should emphasise here, my use of social media has never been what you’d call ‘professional’. My Tumblr account was just a mix of cat gifs, subtitled and melodramatic stills of classic Bollywood actresses crying and my photography, all intertwined in a confused mess that I assumed only made sense to me. Twitter was worse – literally just any thought that came to my mind. But for some reason, which I’m still not sure of, there was something about that mix which people could relate to and engage with. So I’m going to go ahead and embrace it rather than question it.
People started contacting me from all over the world for blog features. I was even interviewed by NY Daily News, which was surreal. I started talking to a lot more people online, and began speaking to Hana Riaz of The Body Narratives via Twitter. She featured my work on the website, and invited me to participate in A Different Mirror, an interdisciplinary exhibition.
These are opportunities I would have never received had I not been engaged with social media, and is something I urge creatives to do. Networking is an annoying concept. We often get force-fed on this topic during our degrees or cheesy career advice talks, and we always think we’re a bit too cool for it. But the likelihood of people seeing your work is significantly increased by talking and sharing and discussing it within public spaces, such as the internet.
I’ve been working on a new project, My Body Is Not Your Battleground. There is a relentless misconception in the West that South Asian women cannot both represent traditionalism and religion as well as modernity and progress and are oppressed, which is certainly not the case and is exhausting to see and hear in the media. The body of work is an aggressive dismissal of this ideology, as well as an insight into a social issue which needs attention to dispel stereotypes.
For this project I used social media as a means to find participants via open calls, and developed a relationship with my subjects before photographing them. The online platform suddenly became imperative to me and my working practice. I’ve now extended the project into the platform for young South Asian women I was yearning for, and hope to curate it as a safe, expressive space.
If you’re a young South Asian female creative, or just have something to say, hit submit and respond accordingly to the guidelines. This is your opportunity to be bold and unashamedly visible.
About the author
Sanaa Hamid is a British Asian photographer and a graduate in BA Photography (Contemporary Practice) from UCA Rochester. She often works within 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. She is interested in the power of digital communication in creative spaces, particularly for women of colour, and the way it enables them to engage internationally in an exchange of experiences and art. Sanaa is interested in the idea of self-representation and creating accurate portrayals of the self to deconstruct stereotypes and establish a re-evaluation of South Asian identity.