Simrah Farrukh

A spotlight with a Pakistani American photographer who focuses on South Asian identity


Photos: Simrah Farrukh

Growing up, you've always had an interest in photography. Why do you connect to it, and how has photography empowered you?

Growing up, my parents documented me and my siblings' childhood through photos and home videos. At the time, it was a way to capture memories. Then in 2015, when I visited my family in Pakistan, my grandmother showed me an archive of old family photos, and through them, I was able to live in that exact moment. To me, photography not only became a tool of remembrance, but it also was a way of speaking and telling stories.

What does heritage mean to you?

Heritage to me means remembering your roots, but at the same time learning and unlearning traditions. People always say never forget where you came from, but within traditions there is toxicity. You can embrace your cultural roots while at the same time dismantle toxic aspects of it.

How has your family influenced your career?

Growing up in a Muslim-Pakistani household, I was fully immersed in my roots. That played a big role in shaping my identity, which emulates into my visuals. Every bit of inspiration I find from family members is incorporated into my work one way or another; whether it's in the process of getting the photo or directly in the photos.

Given that some of your previous work revolves around female figures, was there a specific person that influenced your work?

I think the femininity in my work is influenced by the women I grew up with within my own family and community. As for specific artists, I have been reading about Amrita Sher-Gil and how she portrays women in her work. She's been the only South Asian artist that I historically know of, so I've been studying her paintings and concepts.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? Who are your favorite photographers, and why have they inspired you?

I love Sarah Moon's work. She plays with color and motion that turns her photos into geometric and abstract forms. I love Tyler Mitchell's work and how he uses fashion to tell the Black experience. There aren't many South Asian photographers out there who have been established for a long time, so I constantly look up to Black photographers and how they have captured their own community. They have suffered and paved the way for South Asian Americans and are why we have the rights and opportunities we have today.

Lastly, what can we expect from you this year?

With the COVID-19 outbreak, my plans are uncertain, but I am taking this time to continue practicing and studying the medium of photography. Using myself as a model is challenging, but if I do it enough, I'll master it.

Overall, I think the South Asian American community is fairly new, so we are starting to have our breakthroughs and presence known. During this decade, I hope for us to achieve success together and finally control our narratives, whether it's through film, TV, art, fashion, etc.