girls by girls

Lavanya by Alia

Nov 01

@lavanyapai by @a8lia

Please tell me a little about who you are:
My name is Alia Romagnoli and I am a film student in London. I specialise in art direction and photography and a lot of my work is inspired by my half Indian and half Italian background; I like to take portraits of Indian girls, mixing tradition with individual style.

What is the story behind the series you submitted?
The studio shoot features my close friend Lavanya who went to school with me in India and has now moved to London too. The series included several pieces borrowed and bought from different parts of India, jewellery I bought in a market in Bangalore, block print blouses Lavanya acquired from Kutch and borrowed clothing from other Indian gals. We talked about how it feels to be far from home, what we miss about India and what we keep close to our hearts to remind us of it.

How was it growing up in both Italy and India?
I never really got to grow up in Italy and I spent most of my school years in the south of India. Looking back, I appreciate everything India taught me and really consider it as my home. I was raised by my mother and grandmother and being surrounded by strong women was an important part of understanding my identity and where I came from. I also saw them struggle under the patriarchal structure that exists in Indian society as well as their attempts to fight it. Both women effortlessly combined their individual style with their heritage and that is what I attempt to explore in my work.

How did each experience influence your creativity?
I didn’t realise how colourful India was until I moved to the UK two years ago, and using colour in my work is important to me because it makes me feel close to home. I think that I see the world differently when I’m in India and I desperately attempt to hold onto that when I am away.

Who/where do you find inspiration?
A lot of my inspiration comes from old Bollywood films, particularly those from the 70s and 80s. The makeup was extremely bold and outfits were so thoughtfully put together with no shame in bright colours and textures and patterns. I love the expressive faces women had while acting and take a lot of inspiration from the aesthetic of that era.

What is the biggest misconception about Indian women that you hear and see in mainstream media?
In mainstream media, there is almost no representation of the diversity of Indian women or acknowledgement that they come from different states, have distinctive traditions and unique features from the regions they come from. Each woman has something which makes her diverse yet she is still Indian. We are often portrayed in a one-dimensional way which tends to ignore that there is diversity, even within India.

What do you hope to see for Indian women in the media over the next few years?
I hope to see our culture not appropriated but attempted to be understood and accepted. I hope that Indian girls can wear bindis without feeling self-conscious and that Bollywood actresses become as diverse as the women they represent, especially when auditioning for Hollywood and roles in the European and American film and television industry.

What’s the most frustrating thing about the creative industry for you and how do you plan to change things?
The lack of representation for PoCs is particularly frustrating and if we are included, I’ve noticed a lot recently that it’s becoming more common for some artists to attempt to speak for minority groups which they don’t belong to. Although the representation is significant, I think all artists need to be aware that their own experiences aren’t always the same as those they’re focussing their work on and promoting work created by PoCs is so important.

I’m a part of a lot of Facebook groups which focus on showcasing people art and photography and it’s frustrating that the more popular groups are dominated by white straight men who often tend to objectify women and sexualise the LGBTQIA+ community. In response to this, a friend and I set up a group called Art Babes on Facebook and Instagram to allow fem-identifying and the LGBTQIA+ community to showcase their work in a safe environment. We are actually in the process of making our first zine and hope to release it by the end of the year.

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