top of page

Sri Lankan-Kiwi photographer captures migrants’ stories through fresh perspective

Paridhi Bakshi

Art exhibition shows off migrants' stories in a new way

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A Sri-Lankan-Kiwi photographer has taken charge of spreading the voice of social change, while also capturing migrants’ stories, through her unique photography.

Abhi Chinniah is the artist behind a new exhibition - A Migrant’s Path - that showcases the struggles of cultural identity and belonging from a migrant’s point of view.

”The emphasis of the project was around the migration stories of the ethnic communities and how people keep their culture alive when they’re away from their roots - or where their perceived roots are,” she says.

Born in Christchurch to Jaffna Tamil Malaysian parents, Chinniah grew up in East Coast Malaysia, before returning to New Zealand.

Her work is inspired by her lived experiences.

Another piece that features in Abhi Chinniah's new photographic series is a self portrait. Photo / Abhi Chinniah

A self-taught photographer, Chinniah found her voice and cultivated her passion for the art form from her early teenage years.

”I never thought that’s something I could do because it’s not often you can pursue an arts career. The only options I had was to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer or an accountant.”

A Migrant’s Path is a photo essay that comes after the success of her debut photographic series - Light Skin Dark Skin - which follows the journeys of women who face discrimination because of the colour of their skin.

The 31-year-old says she has also been inspired by her own journey and the racial discrimination and colourism she faced while growing up in Malaysia.

Moving to Malaysia as a Kiwi kid opened her eyes to colourism and “having to fit the box”, as she described it, after arriving with an accent and not knowing how to speak the local language at the time.

The fact that she had moved from New Zealand as a Kiwi kid, but did not look like one, also made things interesting.

“All these things really pointed out to me - and a lot had to do with the colour of my skin.

Chinniah reveals that in Malaysia, skin-lightening products was a big thing and was something even she was introduced to at a very young age.

”In New Zealand, it’s pointed out differently. You have people [saying they] want a tan skin tone, but that often comes with a lot of trauma and racism.”

Putting a spotlight on her photography, she acknowledges that the majority of her portraits reflect the celebration of individual cultural heritage.

The women from the various ethnic communities who have been photographed in front of different landscapes in Aotearoa are all featured wearing traditional attire to their respective motherlands.

Chinniah also added another feather to her achievement as both her photographic series projects have since been acquired by the New Zealand Library and are housed in the contemporary archives.

Chinniah’s latest work shining a unique look at migrants’ stories is now on show as an exhibition Te Atamira, Tāhuna Queenstown’s art and culture centre, which runs until November 19.

Members of the public are informed that the images are printed at 1500 x 1000mm and are available for sale.

Hero image: One of Abhi Chinniah's works, dubbed: Fatumata. Photo / Abhi Chinniah

bottom of page