Through carefully composed photography, Mathushaa Sagthidas depicts Tamil culture, traditions and food
Familial imagery and history come together in her work, often inspired by “conversations with my mum and the important words she tells me regarding precious items”.
- Liz Gorny
- 10 January 2022
Throughout Mathushaa Sagthidas’ body of work, objects feature frequently. The weight the London-based photographer gives mementoes from the past – carefully arranged, presented and styled – evokes the feeling you might get happening across an object from a memory tucked away in a box or wardrobe. At the same time, her photography captures the present, depicting her culture and the items significant to it today. “I am one of the many artists trying to highlight aspects of Tamil culture by speaking about various traditions and religious festivals, such as Deepavali,” she tells It’s Nice That.
Mathushaa has always been creative, she says, wary of sounding cliche. While admittedly different from the form her practice occupies today, she spent much of her time growing up creating fine art drawing, painting and sculpture work, until A-Levels. It was then she “had to take part in some form of experience and the most creative opportunity was this one-week photography course,” Mathushaa recalls. Upon the introduction of a new discipline for the now-photographer, everything changed – something that was more confusing than affirming at first. “I felt quite lost on my next steps in my creative path (which I’ve now realised is completely okay, it’s part of the journey).” Standing at a crossroads of sorts, Mathushaa took on a foundation degree, which allowed her space to discover her passion for photography.
Jumping forward to her career now, Mathushaa asserts she’s at a stage where she’s still growing and learning; “for creatives, I’m not sure if that really ever ends which I think is amazing,” she reflects. At this point, her personal goal is to see her work showcased in “big places and magazines”. She adds: “Places and spaces that I grew up loving but never saw south Asian representation, which I know would’ve made me feel seen growing up.”
A drive to capture the many aspects of Tamil and South Asian culture informs much of the work Mathushaa crafts. “As Tamil women as well as other races in the south Asian community, we’re often just put in this bubble of being just south Asian – which is something you can’t generalise,” she says. “There’s so many races, cultures and lived experiences in the south Asian community.” Her photography conveys this overlooked multiplicity by emphasising storytelling through her shoots, inviting viewers into a choreographed yet everyday look at individual perspectives.
Mathushaa’s Deepavali 2021 is a recent example of such a project, documenting celebrations around the religious festival. “The difference between Diwali and Deepavali is that Diwali is the five-day festival celebrated in mostly the north Indian states, whereas Deepavali is the four-day festival celebrated mostly in the south Indian states,” Mathushaa explains. Her food shoots released during this period are equal parts jaw-dropping and mouth-watering, with Tamil snacks like mutton rolls, vadai (white moong dhal, onions and curry leaves fried like a doughnut) and pakoda (chickpea dhal, cumin and curry leaves hand mixed and fried in small pieces) photographed against inviting backdrops.
In தமிழ்மகளிர் தின வாழ்த்துக்கள் or Happy Tamil Women’s Day, images often relate to Mathushaa’s mum. One photograph, in particular, presents an almost archival look at objects showing her mother’s journey thus far: her Sri Lankan ID, UK college ID, a passport photo, and a piece of jewellery her brother, “who helped and supported her when coming to the UK,” gifted to Mathushaa. Here, her still life work is shrouded in warmth and vibrancy, framed by fabrics – the colours of which, she notes, often inspires the aesthetic of her work.
Like the rest of her portfolio, stories and emotional undercurrents poke through each of the works; “There’s always a story,” Mathushaa says, “and that is what I try to capture.” We can't wait to see her uniquely-told stories showcased across as many “big places and magazines” as possible in the future.
Mathushaa Sagthidas: Deepavali 2021 (Copyright © Mathushaa Sagthidas, 2021)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.