About a week ago I arranged a coffee date with Smrithi Ram and Sree Brahmamdam. I stumbled inside the coffee shop in my usual fashion, a few minutes behind and my hair in a disheveled bun, and was greeted by hugs from these two inspirational women. It had been over four years since I had seen Sree or Smrithi and after a few moments of catch up, we delved into their new project, The S Movement. We discussed the fashion and music that motivates them, embracing when they are called derogatory terms like “curry girl”, and showcasing their culture to a greater population.
The first time I saw The S Movement was when I received an Instagram follow from the girls. I clicked on the new follower; unaware of whom it was, I was taken to an account of vibrant photographs mixing Indian fashions with hip-hop culture and street style. After exploring their website and reading their mission statement and think pieces, I was eager to know more.
Because the state of our country feels fragile to many women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and people outside of the Christian religion, these girls wanted to find a way to showcase the beauty of being part of these communities in the heart of America. While they had originally faced insecurities about embracing their culture growing up and finding ways to hide it among their predominantly conservative and white classmates; they have found intense comforts in the roots of their culture and being able to open the minds of their audience to the beauty of not everybody being the same.
I had originally planned to write about my experience with the girls but they spoke with such eloquence and passion about their project, I thought you deserved to hear it straight from them.
AC: Was it a specific moment in your life that compelled you to create The S Movement, or was this born out of a need for a creative outlet?
Smrithi Ram: I wanted to jump into something creative that would help me get my mind off of what was going on and more importantly I wanted to create something I could be proud of. Considering the events of 2016 and how ignorant the world is, I felt that I had to do my part in spreading awareness about the struggles brown women go through. In the beginning it honestly started as a past time for me to deal with my depression, but as time went on I saw how many people related to our message, which encouraged Sree and I to take this to the next level.
Sree Brahmamdam: I wanted to express my culture more so Smrithi and I decided to play around with the camera and take shoots that intertwined our South Indian culture with our ‘hip hop socialist’ lifestyle. We wanted to use this platform as a creative outlet, but it turned out to be much more than that, which we are very proud of.
AC: What kind of viewers are you looking for your words and photos to speak to?
SB: There are three specific demographics we are trying to reach out to. The first audience we want to reach out to is South Asian women. There are many topics we want to be able to discuss that South Asian women have struggled with and we really would like to address them and make and empowering statement. Another group we are trying to reach out to is those who are interested in hip-hop and rap culture. Growing up, we both turned to music to express our feelings and emotions. Our love for this music has only grown, to the point where we loved to mix hip-hop music with Indian music. The third demographic we are trying to reach is the white population as a whole. We want them to understand the issues and oppression that Indian women have faced, even living in America. We want to teach that ignorance is not the answer and that appreciating other cultures is necessary to grow as a person and a population.
AC: What are the inspirations behind your photos and how do you make the artistic choices you do?
SR: Our inspirations really come from both our mother’s closets. Growing up I would always tell my mom not to wear Indian clothes/jewelry outside because I was so embarrassed of what other people would say. I was scared of the ridicule we would face which caused me to strip my mother of her culture. As I grew older, I realized this same pattern of feeling embarrassed wasn’t going to be broken until I made a change. I started embracing my Indian culture as well as the ornate jewelry and grand clothing that goes along with it. Most of the Indian jewelry and clothing we wear in our shoots are from the collection our moms have created along the years. Our main goal is to mix our street style clothing with Indian jewelry/clothing. We like to have bold statement pieces in our photos that highlight the beauty of the jewelry as well as the simplicity of our outfits.
AC: In the world of fashion, most notably with the Marc Jacobs SS17 show, there have been many arguments dealing with cultural appropriation. What are your thoughts when it comes to mixing Indian styles with westernized ones?
SB: When people wear or use the styles and jewelry, as long as they are appreciating our culture, I am okay with others wearing Indian clothing and jewelry. When they do it just for the aesthetic I don’t appreciate it, there is no authenticity.
SR: My views on cultural appropriation lie with the intentions of the person doing it. I feel that in order to wear another cultures jewelry/clothes you must first understand the meaning behind it. Secondly, you must be able to accept that culture in every other way besides just its fashion.
AC: Growing up in America, where did you find outlets when you were younger to delve into your culture, or did you attempt to hide it?
SB: At first, I attempted to hide my Indian culture, even refusing to eat Indian food at school because I was embarrassed. In high school the girl whose locker next to mine told others my locker smelled like curry. Because of that I had been extremely embarrassed to be Indian. The only outlet I had was my Indian friends. We would all bond over our struggles and we would listen and dance to Indian music and it was, and is, the happiest times of my life.
AC: Which area did you find it hardest to express yourself and how have you begun to break out of that?
SR: I found that it was hardest to express myself through my clothing. Growing up I struggled with dressing myself in a way that would explain my personality and character. I felt the pressure of dressing appropriately from my parents and pressure to not dress like my Indian culture from my peers. Clothing is so important to me since its plays such a role in the first impression people tend to make after meeting. I began to really break out of this about a year and a half ago. The way I dress now gives me confidence not only in what I’m wearing but also in my culture. I love incorporating Indian jewelry into my outfits because the vibrancy it creates reflects my personality.
AC: What are some of the more ignorant questions you are sick of having to answer?
SB: For me, the one question that bothers me is, “Where are you really from?” I’m from Cincinnati. I have lived here my entire life and that is why I have an American accent. Yes, my parents are from India but I am an American Indian.
SR: “Do you speak Indian?” NO! Indian is not a language. Indian is an ethnicity. This is basically like asking someone if they speak American.
AC: What is the number one thing you want your readers to take away from your blog?
SR: The number one most important thing for me that I want people to take away from reading our blog is that it is okay to identify with more than one culture. We are often pushed to decide between one or the other when in reality there is no need to choose. Each culture you have experienced has shaped you into the person you are today so it is completely okay to claim both as well as intertwine them.
SB: The main message we want to convey is to not be embarrassed of your culture. We live in a society where we are sadly judged for being proud of our culture and we would like to empower others to express themselves without feeling judged.
Before speaking with Smrithi and Sree, I had considered myself an pretty open-minded and non-ignorant person (with a few slip ups here and there, of course). But, after our conversation I began to realize how closed off I have been to other religions and cultures. While I’ve tried to embrace the ideas of freedom of religion and am generally open to religious and cultural beliefs other than my own, I had never taken the time to sit down and really learn until this opportunity arose.
If you have found yourself relating to the issues these women have spoken about or are empowered by them, the website welcomes think pieces and the opportunity to showcase other creatives and designers. You can get in contact with the girls at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since this blog has deep roots in music and these girls are motivated by sounds, we had them put together a playlist for you to listen to whether it be while you’re reading, learning, or creating. Enjoy!