Introducing Mathushaa Sagthidas and Semira Badesha, who have collaborated on a project to celebrate South Asian hair and hair-related cultural practises.

Mathushaa Sagthidas is a British Tamil photographer, creative director and stylist, with a strong interest in fine art and contemporary fashion. Semira Badesha is a British Punjabi graphic designer, writer and model, who is passionate about amplifying British South Asian representation. Both artists’ work is influenced by their heritage which has connected them both to this project.

Hair care is a crucial part of many South Asians’ upbringing, with hair oiling and braiding practises being passed down from mother to daughter for generations. This project is about embracing and reflecting on how versatile, strong and beautiful South Asian hair is, much like the women from the community. It was Semira who reached out to Mathushaa about this idea, after having a conversation with her friend about how their hair type is not acknowledged. Semira says, “A friend once asked me what shampoo brand I used and they were surprised when I was naming Treseme and Garnier, expecting me to name some South Asian brands. It was only then I realised that there are no specific brands that cater for our hair in the UK (other than oil brands of course). Our hair is often thought to be the same as Caucasian hair, even among the South Asian community, despite big differences in hair density, thickness and texture”.

Through this project, the duo wants to celebrate the uniqueness of South Asian hair in addition to reclaiming, acknowledging and embracing the ayurvedic tradition of hair oiling. This was something that was a big part of their childhood self-care routine, but it also caused much worry in regards to the reaction from wider society. Mathushaa says, “I have so many memories of my mum putting Amla oil in my hair and how much I hated it at the time, especially because it smelled so strong. 

I found the whole process irritating but most importantly, I knew I was most likely to be teased for it at school. However, now looking back and having reconnected with my Tamil identity, it’s something that I’ve started to implement into my self-care routine again, and it’s a way I show love and care towards my body”.

Since around 2020, people outside of the South Asian community have started taking to South Asian hair care techniques, with hair oiling being one of them. Mathushaa and Semira wanted to create this project to reclaim traditional practises and remind others where this hair technique comes from. It is not the latest hair trend or beauty trick, but in fact a practice rooted in South Asian culture.

Mathushaa Sagthidas is a photography student at Camberwell College of Arts, UAL. Mathushaa’s work often examines her identity – Tamil Eelam ethnicity and British nationality, which is a pivotal part of her work. This complex cultural identity is often reflected through traditions, history and strongly by fashion photography. Mathushaa’s work has been featured on Campaign Magazine, Graduate Fashion Week, Fashion Scout, The Rights Collective Brown Bodies Issue 6, FAD Charity, Anisha Parmar London, MESA Magazine, Asian Woman Festival and more.

Mathushaa’s Instagram:

Semira Badesha is a Human Geography graduate who has dived into the creative industries to celebrate her South Asian heritage through her illustrations, written articles and videography. As a 3rd generation Punjabi, she is also passionate about exploring the complex negotiation of identities that British South Asians experience. Semira is a content writer for the platform @BigSisterJournal and digital illustrator for, the latter of which aims to amplify the voices of the South Asian diaspora.

Semira’s Instagram: