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Sanam Sindhi is spotlighting South Asian beauty

South Asia Archive is a growing Instagram account where Sanam Sindhi posts images of South Asian tattoo traditions and jewellery details

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LA-based creative Sanam Sindhi is busy. Whether it’s modelling for Savage x Fenty or curating her NTS radio show, or her latest project – near and dear to her heart – creating a digital archive documenting South Asian beauty from jewellery to tattoos, under the Instagram handle @southasiaarchive.

“I've always been so intimidated by the worlds of academia and art and I don't think it should be as scary or elitist as it is,” she explains, “so I just want to make this information as accessible as possible and create a fun and informative experience.”

This account serves as a reminder that it’s important to tell our stories and diversity is not just a box to be ticked off. South Asian representation in beauty and fashion is often limited to a fairer complexion and a euro-centric idea of what is beautiful. This account is a visceral view of beauty in its most pure and raw form. This Instagram account is a place where you can learn about the African diaspora in India or simply be inspired by South Asian tattoo traditions and jewellery details.

Tell us about your digital archive, what is it and what is your process?
South Asia Archive is a research and education platform for sharing my studies on traditions of beauty, adornment, identity, fashion, and queerness in the Indian subcontinent. Most of the South Asian archive projects I've found are focused on history and politics but I'm more interested in preserving what's happening right now, or at least exploring how the past informs the present and future, through the lens of beauty. I do this through a collection of images, books, papers, any kind of media - and it requires hours and hours of organisation and research. There's a lot of stuff I haven't been able to share yet because maybe it's an image that I found years ago that I don't have a source or context for and it might take me years to find one. It's tricky work because what I'm searching for and sharing isn't readily available the way a lot of other things are, so it's a real test of my patience and discipline.

What inspired you to start South Asia Archive?
I had been collecting images for the last 10 years from the internet, books, and various other sources and just had all of these things piling up that were in some sense healing the displacement and disconnect I felt as a first generation child of immigrant parents. I would occasionally post something on my personal account and the response was always overwhelming or I would see it reposted by virtually every young, queer South Asian person on Instagram and I started to realise that sharing this work is important. There is so little representation for us in the diaspora besides Bollywood and even that is really centered more around Western beauty ideals. I think there's an innate desire to see ourselves outside of a colonial gaze and what better way to build community around that than to provide education and access and resources?

What do you hope to accomplish with the account?
I'm interested in getting grants and funding so I can continue my research and build a more physical, tangible collection and experience because right now everything is coming out of my own pocket so I feel limited in what I can do with it. I want to take the work to museums and consult for fashion houses. I made this Instagram filter for the archive with my friend Jenny Yoo who's an incredible AR artist. I've always been so intimidated by the worlds of academia and art and I don't think it should be as scary or elitist as it is so I just want to make this information as accessible as possible and create fun and informative experiences.

What are some of your favourite pieces you've found in your research for South Asia Archive?
I'm coveting this book about tribal jewellery in India that's been out of print for like 40 years but it has the most beautiful images that I've never seen anywhere else. I've only been able to find one copy of it and it's... expensive.

What’s your earliest beauty related memory?
Being in Mumbai as a child and the sensory overload of colours and noises and the smell of jasmine garlands that women wear in their hair. Watching my mom pleat her sari.

Describe your beauty aesthetic in three words.
Ok this one is hard. Colourful, fluid, and powerful.

When do you feel most beautiful?
When I'm self-aware and connected to every aspect of my identity.

Three beauty products you often have with you?
I always have Aesop hand cream in my purse, whatever lipstick I’m feeling that day, and black eyeliner.

You have to replace your body with that of an animal or a mythological creature. What do you go for and why?
I’d wanna be something cute from a Miyazaki movie or a cow! Cows are so beautiful and sweet and are symbols of the earth.

What's your favourite smell?
My favourite smell is probably jasmine, or my mom’s cooking, or Tom Ford Velvet Orchid.