A photo-book opening a window into the South Asian community, by UCA Fashion Promotion student, Natasha Bains.
Out of her final year project, Natasha Bains created photo-book, 'Roses & Marigolds'. An observation into the Asian community around the U.K. A personal outreach from her family upbringing. A raw insight into how "diaspora is changing through the generations of second-generation immigrants." It is also about "how the British Asian experience is different from the American Asian." Roses & Marigolds stems from "the blend of diaspora", "two different cultures; British and South Asian." 'Roses' representing "Britain and 'Marigolds', a popular flower in South Asian weddings."
Throughout the book, Natasha explores "families, generations, culture, religion, womanhood and interracial relationships." There is a feeling of home and a welcome insight into Roses & Marigolds. Whilst showing the unrepresented, it poses a sense of belonging. "British media often describe the Asian community in a negative light. Rather than the contributions we have made to society." Take Brexit, having "increased hate crime towards immigrants and BAME communities, from people wanting the ‘immigrants to go home’. When they forget they were bought here in the first place by the British to help build your country, as my grandparents were. Without multiculturalism and immigration, Great Britain would be as little as 'great'."
Therefore, Roses & Marigolds shows "positive representation of the contribution from the British Asian communities." One charity in particular, "Nishkam Swat", "a Sikh charity which feeding homeless in several locations over the U.K. Photographing "communities where South Asians live". Aiming to beat-down "negative connotations" such as, "they don't integrate and contribute to society." Roses & Marigolds rightly proves people wrong.
The images themselves are raw, a polished feel yet tells the exact message Natasha is putting across. Taken by Natasha herself, there's a sense of warmth and no hesitation in wanting more from the story. "It reveals a truthfulness behind the image." Many "photographers strive for perfectness, but it is seen in the eyes of the beholder." You connect yourself to the images. No matter where you're from in Britain, there's diversity. However, it's unspoken, communities of people who have gone amiss. Yet, with Roses & Marigolds, the happy imagery do more than fill you with joy. They open a window into history, one that isn't discussed enough. Many platforms who put across the fact of being open and looking to smaller communities. However, many do not do so. Natasha has opened a door into a discussion that needs to be louder.
The aim? "To open conversations around British Asian lives and communities." Allowing "British Asians to feel represented throughout the narrative. Creating a platform for people to speak about their own experiences. Also, in a way it allowed me to connect even more with my culture and understand my family’s history with my grandparents emigrating from India to Kenya to Britain.
"In the South Asian community, there are a lot of expectations put upon children of the diaspora to fit a certain mould of the perfect child." Including, "who you
should marry, ideally seen to be someone of the same race, religion and caste. Being in an interracial relationship myself as a British Asian with my boyfriend being white. I have received lots of criticism and racism from other South Asians and White people." People "who look down or feel uncomfortable looking at us holding hands. Luckily my family are happy with whoever I date/ marry as long as I am happy."
This has been a "talking point for other South Asians in interracial relationships." Helping "to understand that they are not alone, and they should celebrate their relationships." And because of her own experiences, "I have ideas for starting a zine about interracial relationships." Since "interracial relationships don’t have a platform where they are represented, or their experiences are not showcased for other people to understand." The platform will "celebrate all types of relationships."
Roses & Marigolds was completed during the lockdown. Natasha was "still in my student house with my friends, we all had to stay and finish off our FMP. So, having that amount of work to do kept us busy every-day." However, "I struggled with not seeing my family and boyfriend, as I am very much a family person. I am very much a person who gets on in situations as I realise that there is nothing I can do. I like to keep positive in my day to day life as life is too short to be negative!"
In-fact, Natasha "went to communities that I had grown up in or visited that have predominantly heavy south Asian communities." Places like "Southall, the biggest Punjabi community outside of India. Also, Gravesend which has the biggest Gurdwara (Sikh temple) in the UK. These communities are where I go when I need specific clothing for Asian events or the best Asian food!" Having "showcased a variety of people; my family were a big element in my book as I documented south Asian families and generations. There are three generations of girls/women in my family which I wanted to present and empower. Women are not
seen as equal to men in south Asian culture, the birth of a girl is seen as a disappointment." Also showcasing "Asian business owners, to represent businesses which they had grown from the ground. Due to the negative stereotype of 'immigrants are stealing our jobs, grrr.'
People never know exactly what someone is thinking. We all simply guess along the way based on what people say. However, "I think it is starting to become more open to new ideas and ways of life. Slowly but surely." Religion is an unspoken subject for many. "My religion, Sikhism, was never taught at my school. Therefore, people did not know much about my religion and just assumed I was Muslim or Hindu. It’s important to represent all the religions in Britain, as it represents the communities and people of this country." "People tend to shy away from religious topics." However, "it is a part of my life growing up as a British Sikh, and how my religion has influenced how I live my life. The selflessness and giving nature that Sikhs have for the want to better their communities."
"People often think culture and religion is the same thing, but I think it's separate. Culture is how people act and respond to religion. However, this is changing as the diaspora is increasing in Britain. They are more influenced by western ideas. In South Asian culture you are starting to see a shift in ideas towards the future of the culture." There is now "more acceptance towards LGBTQ+ and interracial relationships, divorcees and women being powerful." Although, "these topics are more accepted by the younger diaspora than the elders, but they are the future. Hopefully, this idea of acceptance will be passed down to future generations."
Roses & Marigolds is a stem from the family branch of Natasha. Having been inspired initially by "my mum giving me loads of family archive imagery going
back to40s of my grandparents in India and Kenya to the 80s/90s photos of my family growing up in Britain." With Natasha's grandparents having been "born in India, they emigrated to Kenya to work on the railroads by the British. However, when dictator Idi Amin came into power, he introduced Africanisation which meant all the Indians in the country had to leave. With nowhere to go my grandad decided to come to Britain and fight in the British army. That’s how I am here today! This history was so interesting, and I wanted to share it with the world, my grandparents’ journey for us to have the best life."
Natasha's Roses & Marigolds is as personal as a photo-book can get. It is a perfect documentation of how the past has met present. Not only is the photography a perfect illumination of the South Asian community, but there is also real depth. A genuine story, heightened by the fact this is something that needs a larger discussion.
For more about Natasha and Roses & Marigolds,