A series of portraits of South Asian creative individuals, on display at the National Maritime Museum
As part of Royal Museums Greenwich’s first celebration connected to South Asian Heritage Month, the Museum commissioned Mehala Ford, founder of CommonGround&, to respond to the representation of South Asian history and culture in the National Maritime Museum.
The result is a series of portraits of South Asian creative individuals, photographed around historic Greenwich and displayed on the Great Map of the National Maritime Museum.
From musicians and artists to writers, entrepreneurs, directors and designers, all these people are pioneers: breaking new ground and inspiring a renaissance in South Asian creativity.
The display is free and open to everyone at the National Maritime Museum.
Hear more from the 'Pioneers' during the series of talks and workshops throughout October and November:
Scroll through the gallery of see all the images on display.
DJ, producer, radio presenter
"I draw my inspiration primarily from the Asian underground movement. This was born in the 90s through iconic artists fusing their British & Asian identities. Music was a way of helping them find their place within society; one that at the time was ridden with racism, driven by organisations such as the National Front."
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Photographer: Mathushaa Sagthidas
"The formidable women who taught me before university are the only reason I have achieved anything. The world needs more people who care about those around them, the planet they walk on and get nourishment from."
Creative director, founder of Studio Pi
"I live and breathe what I do. Work should never feel like work, it should feel like an extension of yourself and the things that you enjoy. Once you’ve got to that point, you’ve nailed it."
"I was really conscious of my own mortality and made me think, ‘Do I want to be on my death bed and regret what I could have done with my life?' Ultimately you want to look back and say, ‘I lived a life I’m really proud of’. You should try to do what you can to make that happen."
DJ, curator and creative director
"I am inspired by the everyday and our truest, simplest and yet sometimes hardest-to-grasp human experiences. I am most surprised when I realise I am unknowingly inspired by knowledge, traditions and practices passed down through the women in my family!"
Podcast host, facilitator, coach
"My work is all about inspiring new possibilities and my style is radically human. I embrace my unpolished self and prioritise our shared humanity over social and professional hierarchies. Prioritise self-knowledge, gratitude and building community. Modern society talks a lot about doing things alone, but life is too challenging to stay isolated."
Film director, founder of The Asian Man, podcast host
"Think about your career or your skill set as a long-term thing, as a marathon rather than a sprint. When you do that you take the pressure off trying to win immediately. You then start to enjoy the journey a little bit more."
"Growing up in a Gujarati, Indian, Hindu, East African, British amalgamated household, gold was integral. Adornment decked our home: from statues, idols, gold-embellished paintings and ornaments- wherever you looked there was a carefully adorned nook."
"Growing up in Karnataka, India, I have always found everyday life the most inspiring and is what I look to when creating work. The flower markets, architecture, food, mythology, folk art and fashion all weave their way into my practice."
Founder of Burnt Roti magazine, Middlesex Pride and Oh Queer Cupid
"My biggest inspiration was, and still is, frustration. It’s frustration about the lack of support for vulnerable people. For people of colour, queer people, trans people, disabled people. I find my inspiration comes from wanting significant change. Every project I've created has the goal of raising voices and building community unity, so this frustration is quietened."
"To the next generation I would say learn everything you can about the people who came before you, become students, take all the information in, and go and blaze your own paths to greatness. You will do it even better than the people who did it before you."
DJ, dancer, journalist
"Building a connection with others who love the sounds I do is what keeps me going. I don’t believe there is a place for pretension in clubbing and dance music, so I feel inspired by those who are working to create open, joyful and inclusive spaces for people to explore music and be free."
Beauty content creator
"As a young girl I always wanted to pursue modelling, but growing up in a Tamil household the idea of this was firmly shut down. It never felt like a real option. I started putting myself out there more. This went hand in hand with giving modelling another go. I’ve not looked back since and do it full time now."
Transpersonal transcultural psychotherapist, artist, stylist
"My family and early life experiences are a big inspiration as well as my multiracial Sri Lankan/Dutch Jewish heritage. My mum always inspired my fashion career with her incredible style and bold sense of colour."
Founders of Dishoom Restaurants
"As part of the South Asian community, we’re so much more visible than we have been historically. We are now more willing to use our voices, to be who we are. We think this is worth building on and the more we do this as ourselves, the richer it is for us and for the country, too."
"Growing up I didn’t have many people to look up to as I never saw many people who looked like me on screen or sounded like me on the radio. The few people I could look up to gave me hope that it could also happen to someone like me! Believe in yourself – no dream is too big."
Photographer: Taran Wilkhu
"There are no artists like me, who are doing what I am doing, and that void in the entertainment landscape also inspired me to be a vessel for spiritual expansion through the medium of music."
"I am constantly inspired by the past, researching different eras and bringing them into the modern world with a contemporary lens on what I believe luxury menswear to be. Find your own perspective and interpretation of what you do and work hard to make that something that has a unique voice within the industry."
"Modelling has allowed me to be visible as a dark-skinned Tamil Queer person, to use my body as a concept/idea/art and to collaborate with creatives, as well as helping create a platform and community for myself, where I can explore issue that are important to me."
Photographer: Alia Romagnoli
"Understand that your views, ideas and lived experience bring nuance to a general narrative. It's okay to be whoever you are and wherever you are on your own journey, be it as an artist or simply a human on this planet."
DJ, musician, model
"Part of my inspiration has, strangely, been the lack of South Asian visibility in the professional spaces I’ve inhabited for so long. Brown people have generally been a minority in the arts, but the tide has finally changed, and the collective force of our talents is finally being championed like never before."
"I incorporate my South Asian heritage into all my performances by dancing to music and beats from my culture, which includes songs in Malayalam (my mother tongue) and Tamil, as these are the songs me and my family grew up listening to at parties and community functions."
Entrepreneur, founder of The Other Box
"While people talk about generational trauma, I want to recognise the generational strength that has shaped my existence. It is a testament to the unwavering resilience of my family and ancestors, who faced immense adversity, carving a path for me to be here in this moment."
"Creating projects with my Amma (mum) gave me the space and opportunity to ask questions so openly about our history, which helped me figure out who I am as a creative and the messages I wanted my work to have. It helped me become comfortable and unquestionable in the creative I was becoming. Thank you Amma."
"DAYTIMERS was started as a way to carry on the message of the daytime parties of the 80s and 90s (from which DAYTIMERS gets its name), where young British Asians skipped school to dance to bhangra, jungle and garage in community spaces. Find your people, be proud of your background, history and story. As a collective, we have been showing the power of a community and its collective energy since 2020."
"Creatively, I take inspiration from any marginalised person who’s had to fight to show their lived experience in art. Some of the world’s most magnificent art comes from pushing a voice we’ve never seen or heard towards the world’s eyes, ears and fingers through barriers of poverty, racism or gender inequality."
"When I was growing up in Luton, my grandparents, who fled their home in India during partition and ended up coming to Britain, inspired me to work hard and to live a life in pursuit of knowledge. It made me see that people didn’t need to be defined by their circumstances and encouraged me to mould a life and career I desired."
Musician, radio presenter
"I am an Eelam Tamil artist from south London. My style is Eastern meets Western, an amalgamation of the two worlds I grew up in. Being different is actually a flex: own it."
Photographer: Nishant Shukla
Cultural producer, curator and television presenter
"I would tell the next generation to live boldly and with more authenticity. We have long yearned for our faces and races to be visible in the creative arts and many courageous South Asians have pioneered places at the table for us. Now it’s out time to redefine what we are capable and deserving of."
"My gallery has collaborated with both local and international artists to initiate impactful cross-cultural discourse. So many incredible individuals, who have unflinchingly addressed issues of racism and, inequality have shared generously. They have in turn inspired me to try and be part of the change and to continue to make space for others."
Social entrepreneur, activist
"I'm a disability inclusion and accessibility specialist, a social entrepreneur and a broadcaster.
One thing I love about my portfolio career is that it lets me explore all sorts of interests, broadens my horizons, and allows me to have an impact on different fields. Being a South Asian woman who experiences disability, I have taken it upon myself to make the changes I want to see in the world."
Art PR, founder of KTW PR
"Ultimately, I want my work to outlive me and to imprint cultural change, diversity and education on the world and for myself. I continuously want to learn and be filled, quite literally, with cultural curiosity. Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Everyone is relevant."
Founder of Sthuthi Ramesh Design
"Being born and raised in India and then later moving to the UK has given me a super creative lens making my design solutions fresh and relevant. No short cuts, just sheer hard work. Soak up all creative energy around you."
Founder of Tiipoi, product designer
"I can attribute what I do to my experience of leaving my home in India and trying to take apart what that means for me, but also others who have had a similar experience. Rather than being driven by a feeling of loss and nostalgia, I choose to think about objects that could exist in the future."
Chef, founder of Cue Point
"As a first-generation Afghan refugee living in Hackney in east London in the 90s, I learned the beauty, innovation and power of diversity. Being accepted, proud and celebrated for my differences gave me the fuel, personality and tenacity to do what I do."
"Keep experimenting with different forms and mediums and never be limited by what people expect of you. Realise that what you do now is not what you might want to do in 15 years' time. It’s OK to change your mind about it. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself."
Photographer: Taran Wilkhu
"Find your tribe and surround yourself with good people. Learn to listen, connect and collaborate, but most importantly don't be afraid to make mistakes."
Photographer: Mathushaa Sagthidas
Founder of CommonGround& and Friday Sari Project
"I create through my experience and use my intuition to absorb what is going on around me and to get a sense of what is to come in the future. My work tells the story of my life and that is constantly evolving."
"Pioneers takes its lead from the historical portraiture in the Traders gallery and the lack of South Asian representation visible in it.
"Through storytelling and portraiture, the display explores the importance of ‘layers, memory and legacy’ in the South Asian creative community. The content has been inspired by the pioneering journeys that South Asian creatives and their ancestors have made to establish new homes, communities and careers.
"Pioneers questions how portraiture can be used to reflect parts of our personal history, as well as what we can pass on to future generations. This display represents South Asian creative individuals, photographed by four South Asian photographers. All of these people have forged dynamic new paths and platforms and contributed to what we are calling ‘A Renaissance in South Asian Creativity’. These are the people we call pioneers."
- Mehala Ford, Founder of CommonGround&
Join a series of talks and workshops at the National Maritime Museum throughout October and November.
Pioneers is part of the Season of Identity, a series of events at Royal Museums Greenwich exploring Britain's global connections and identities.
The National Maritime Museum is free to enter, but you are welcome to book tickets online in advance.