It’s that time again! Each month we celebrate diverse and unmistakable talent by interviewing someone to find out how their work and identity intersect, bringing them where they are today. This time, the newest addition to The Unmistakables’ team - Laiqa Miriam.
What’s your name and what do you do?
My name is Laiqa Miriam, and I am Intersectional Feminist, Activist and Creative.
How does your identity affect your work and your life in general?
I was born and raised in East London, originally from Kashmir, and educated at an Arts School in Paris, my identity as an Intersectional brown woman root my entire life and career. I have just finished a 100+ page thesis, or Intersectional Manifesto, which outlines the key forms of socio-economic and cultural discrimination faced by Intersectional people, particularly of WoC, to legitimise the barriers we face in the creative field. Having academic experience in Fine Art, and Architecture, as well as professional experience in Design and Luxury Fashion, I know these biases first hand. Thus, I am dedicated to dismantling the white supremacist patriarchy, which is the root cause for all systems of oppression globally and in the creative industry. I am launching Highlighter, which is a digital platform to educate and empower emerging Intersectional creatives. It will be home to an Intersectional directory, housing the latest talent in the Creative Industry, as well as articles by Intersectional writers to propel these creatives through the first steps of their career.
Who have been your role models and why?
Without a doubt Kimberlé Crenshaw is one of my biggest inspirations, my thesis is an ode to her and the numerous other black women like Marsha P. Johnson who have shaped the entirety of modern-day identity politics, they have fought for our freedom, and we are indebted to the incredible sacrifices they have made. It is up to my generation of brown women to learn from them and to start enacting change in our own community around the intersections of gender with race and sexuality.
Do you think other people see you differently to how you see yourself?
Definitely, mainstream media presents a very narrow image of what it means to be a South Asian woman; being submissive, married with 3 kids and destined to work in STEM is the usual trope thrown about. I am none of that, I am very vocal about the inequalities I see, I have been entrenched with everything creative since I was a child, I learnt to draw before being able to read, and was probably one of the first South Asian girls at my school to get a Fine Art Scholarship. My south Asian female friends and family are some of the strongest and fiercest women I know, this portrayal of us as quiet and subservient is so damaging especially when it is complete fallacy, and the furthest thing from the truth.
Do you see yourself in advertising and marketing?
Not at all. I could probably name all my potential brown role models on one hand, Jameela Jamil, Mindy Kaling, M.I.A?
Who else is there? It took me 20 years to learn about Indian female fine artists, and I still know barely any compared to the plethora of white male artists that are taught by our education system. I remember asking my Art Professor to show me more brown women, their solution was showing me Gaugin, not realising the imperialistic nature of his work, and the fact he sexually abused and groomed most of his underage brown female models. When whiteness is the implicit norm in the West, the options of representation we do have are inherently capitalistic or rooted in colonisation, it means generations of brown kids are left without role models or representation. On top of that, diaspora kids have very few options to choose from back home too; when only the 2nd and 3rd gen of my family is alive, I have no connection to my mother language, media or arts, like Bollywood. My mum’s generation grew up in London without these media too so there is nothing to pass on. My identity is completely unique, it’s ever-changing, the only people who can actually discuss it are my generation, so the only way forward is to start putting us there as the voice piece.
Are you tired of hearing about Diversity & Inclusion?
We need to stop grouping diversity and inclusion together, the semiotics of these words have different meanings, diversity is a superficial form of activism, it’s saying ‘we aren’t racist because we hired a token PoC, or have a couple of minorities on our ads.’ Inclusion is diversity without tokenism, and it is so necessary that we keep having discussions on how to make organisations more inclusive and safe for all people. Inclusion is centring my organisation’s values and mission around minorities, and prioritising them at the core of the company. The only way to fix this issue is to actually hire people from marginalised backgrounds both in senior and junior positions, it’s a trickle-down effect, statistics time and time again show that representation at the top of the hierarchy leads to overall better and authentic representation throughout the whole organisational culture.
What one thing would you say to your younger self?
That I will go beyond and above my wildest dreams and not to worry about my future. 10 years ago I was permanently living at the oncology ward of Great Ormond Street Hospital, my world was surgeries, chemo and constant IV drips. After being in remission it took me a few years to get back to school daily and it felt like I was always playing catch up. I never expected I would get here, graduate and being actively involved in making changes to my wider community. I would tell myself to let go of trying to be in control of my destiny, and to let my life and path play out as it was meant to.
Everything happens for a reason, and every obstacle is an opportunity to grow and learn.