Allyship And Desi Representation: A Conversation With Simrah Farrukh

Her photographs have a distinct, ethereal style, almost– something about the colours and the contrast draws you in and keeps you there.

Self portrait, Simrah Farrukh

From the very first email exchange, it is clear that Simrah is someone who is determined to be a good ally.

“Being transparent,” she writes, “I feel like this opportunity could be for someone who is in the LGBTQA+ space, and I don’t want to take away spotlight or space from the community.”

When she agrees to do an interview, she wants it to be centered around allyship through art, and how important it is to not exploit marginalized communities– instead of solely her work as a photographer.

This good intent and genuineness is still something that is, unfortunately, hard to find in allies of the LGBTQA+ community, and her sensitivity almost seems to make up for that.

Simrah’s work, which focuses mostly on the Desi community, is stunning, almost other-worldly. With every piece on her Instagram (@simrahfarrukh), I seem to learn a little more about her, as well as the community that she so brilliantly represents.

Her photographs have a distinct, ethereal style, almost– something about the colours and the contrast draws you in and keeps you there.

Q. Do you think it was harder to gain an audience for your work because it was more focused on brown people?

I think… yes and no.

Yes, because my work is pretty focused on the brown community and the South-Asian diaspora, but no, because at the same time, there are a lot of Desis who are looking for representation in popular media and in general, so since my work is solely based on the diaspora, a handful of people have been attracted to it.

Q. A lot of allies used to find it hard to warm up to the idea of LGBTQA+, before they became allies. Were you always an ally, or do you remember something specific that turned you into one?

I’d say I’ve always been an ally and supportive of the LGBTQA+ community, but I didn’t know what an ally was until my senior year of high school. I didn’t know the concept of being an ally, but I was supportive and obviously, accepting, before that.

I have close friends and family members that are a part of the LGBTQA+ community, so it’s always been important to me to be there for them.

Q. What is your main priority when you’re making art involving queer people?

I’d say my main priority is that they’re comfortable during the entire photoshoot, and that I’m not tainting their narrative with my perceptions of what queer people are in my head– the passive stereotypes that I probably have.

I think, as an ally, there’s a lot that you have to unlearn and learn, and so, it’s important to make sure, throughout the entire process, that their narrative is being told the way they want it to be told.

Q. And how do you ensure that?

Before we start shooting, when I reach out to somebody, I usually have a conversation with them to get to know them a little bit better and to get to know their story a little bit more. When I shot with Sufi (@sufi.sun) for the photoshoot Ek Ladki Ko Dekha, we talked a little bit and created a document that had a bunch of photos from when they first met… she told me the story of how they met and how they started dating, and their relationship, so through that, I basically put together the colours or the composition, the set design that would kind of bring out their story into a visual aspect.

And then throughout the shoot, I just make sure that they’re comfortable.

Q. Has your work involving queer people been received differently to your other works?

For the most part, on my side of the platform, I’ve never seen any negative comments about anything. I receive a lot of positive comments on my Instagram.

But I can’t really say anything for what happens on their side, especially if they have a larger audience.

Q. Have you ever received any messages for your work that inspired you to represent more LGBTQA+ people?

Yeah, my shoot with Sufi and Anjali (@anjali.chakra) was my first shoot with a queer couple. I’ve always worked with queer people before, but they were the first couple, and they brought the most comments and messages out of it, I guess.

After that shoot, a lot of queer-identifying people were DMing me, saying that they’ve never seen a brown woman and a brown woman being represented together before. It was always maybe a white queer person with another white queer person, but they’ve never seen that in the Desi community.

They messaged me saying that it was really important to them and that it made them feel like they were not alone. A couple of people have confided in me about their identities and coming out and that kind of blew my mind– that people would put so much trust in me when a lot of them don’t even know me personally!

Just getting those messages warms my hearts and motivates me to continue to help people in telling their stories, so that a lot of people don’t feel alone.

About the author

Saachi Gupta

Saachi Gupta is an LGBTQ+ activist, animal lover and the author of 'With Love, or Something Like That.' She is a strong believer in equality amongst mankind.
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