Trishna Goklani: Our Problem with Race & Starting A Visual Publication

Trishna Goklani: Our Problem with Race & Starting A Visual Publication

Interview originally published in Issue 02
Current editorial featuring unpublished shots


Singapore is facing a new wave of artistic and creative providers — such as Trishna Goklani who runs Swee Zine (a visual digital publication aimed at providing an alternative voice for photographers, fashion stylists and artists in Singapore),  challenging myopic views and artistic limitations set by conventions. Aside from creating and showcasing art, Trishna also uses her platform to address issues pertaining to race and social class. 

In 2017, she also became the face of a LANEIGE campaign that sparked healthy conversations on racial representation—a topic that’s largely approached with cold eyes in Singapore in the past years—in which she had a hand in producing as well.

Currently pursuing a degree in Fashion Journalism at London College of Fashion, she actively takes up projects with recognised outlets like Dazed, Something Curated and has documented two London Fashion Week editions in a row. While it may seem like the fashion writer and stylist has burst onto the scene in the last two years, it has, in fact, took her multiple progressions since the age of 18.

Even before your move to London, you’ve already built up a strong portfolio in Singapore. How was that journey like?
I only got into fashion journalism, styling and photography when I started pursuing my Diploma in Apparel and Design Merchandising at the age of 18. Since graduation, my interest has evolved from design to media and communications. In 2016, I moved to London after working for a year and finding my way around the industry. I feel that now is a good time for me to pursue my degree after getting a taste of the fashion and media industry. If I had made the move two years ago, I doubt I’d be the same person. Of course, I still struggle with finding my niche and purpose in life. What’s something that really drives me?

My experience in London has been very rewarding. You learn a lot from the way people come up with ideas and create here—it’s very different from how we do it back home. That was why Nicole and I wanted to start Swee Zine—we started out wanting to work on shoots and submit photos to various magazines in London. We came up with a list of the many people and places we could reach out to. While doing so, we found it strange that there were so many options—it was not something we were used to because there weren’t many outlets we could submit our works to back in Singapore.

A lot of the media channels that we get back home are heavily censored or directed to a particular agenda. When faced with that, you don’t truly get to express your creativity because, oh, you know, it’s not very appropriate—it doesn’t make sense financially.

Read: mon aimee on Swee Zine

The popular works back home felt very safe. We knew that there were other people who dabble in experimental or conceptual styles but were never deemed good enough for commercial projects and mainstream media—which is a restriction on its own. I guess you don’t necessarily notice the lack of creative support or movements when you’re in the comfort of your own home. Your perspective changes vastly when you start exposing yourself to more things from the world outside.

Granted there were times when you questioned if this was all worth it?
All the time! There are days when I wish someone would take me home immediately. I’m a very emotional person so when I sense that something isn’t going right, I start questioning if I’m meant for this. 

But these days are just temporary. It’s important to talk myself through these insecurities and fear in order to get back on track. I’d say to anyone who’s facing the same thing to just do the day and be appreciative and grateful of the fact that you’re here—not everyone has the chance to receive an overseas education. There's so much more to gain than just a degree. Since day one I’ve told myself that I’m not going to waste this. I’ll make every single day here count.

I don’t want to look back on my time here and realise that I haven’t done all I can. I want to immerse myself as much as I can into the creative energy from London and eventually bring that back home.

Has being in London pushed you to stop in your tracks more often?
London moves very fast, which isn’t much of a culture shock for me. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from the people here, it’s that they really give themselves breaks—back home, we feel the need to be ‘productive’ constantly. You know, sometimes it’s fine if you spend Sunday doing nothing.

You’ve never been afraid to call out bullying and racism. How is it like in London?
As compared to my peers of other races, I don’t get called out as often here. When they are directed at my friends, I do feel the need to stand up for them—especially since I grew up as a minority in my home country and I’m aware how that feels.

At the same time, it’s also weird to see how people react to racism like it was never inherent back home—that’s when they stop to think and realise that this is not new.

Back in Singapore, people of minority races like myself have to deal with this for most of their lives, sometimes their whole lives. In schools and workplaces, there’s always some sort of discrimination towards people of the minority race. Personally, growing up with racism made me the person I am today.

I was never always so confident and outspoken especially when people snarked about my background. I had no one around me who would point out the injustice.

When I became slightly older, I’d experienced more intense situations: An ex-date once told me that he couldn’t see ‘someone like me’, honest mistakes like not seeing someone approaching the lift that led to the person saying, ‘ccb yin du ren’ not realising I could understand Mandarin. I vividly remember the person who said it was a middle-aged woman who had a child by her side.

When these people live overseas, that’s when the roles are reversed—they get to live as a minority and be exposed to behaviours that stem from ignorance. There are people who claim that there’s nothing wrong with ‘some humour’ but here’s the thing—if you cannot understand why casual racism is so harmful, perhaps it’s a good idea to step into the shoes of a minority. People can be very hostile and make you feel very unwelcomed.

At the end of the day, everyone’s finding their place in life and it’s absolutely unnecessary to add to the baggage by making someone feel like they don’t belong just because of his or her skin colour. 

There’s racism in Singapore even when we claim that we ‘can’t be’ because of our ‘multi-cultural’ nature.
We have tried to bridge that gap but in general, there’s still so much negativity and ignorance around. For example, there’s this very sick mindset—that it’s okay to subject a minority to stereotypical personalities like ‘lazy’, ‘uneducated’, ‘poor’ and even calling someone black or in my case,  apunehneh. Who even made this word up?

There’s a lot of entitlement and hierarchy play—some people see themselves as above people of other races. I’ve even heard a non-Chinese Singaporean get referred to as a ‘foreign talent’—by doing so, you’re refusing the identity of that person just because of how he or she looks. 

Racism in Singapore is subtle but it’s there and it’s not okay. In fact, I’d love to do an open letter series—I’ve encountered my fair share of both deliberate and unintentional ignorance and I feel that it might be a good idea to address these social gaps in a safe, open space.

Was bridging social gaps part of the plan when it came to creating your own publication with Nicole?
Swee Zine is an alternative voice for the creative scene. We wanted to offer a space to people who were different and build a more inclusive community around the creative dialogue—that was something I didn’t have when I was experimenting with my style. 

Most of the time, certain works are not exposed because there are themes like homosexuality, politics and that’s where censorship comes into play—oh, this is too controversial, we can’t publish it. To us, as long as it’s a good piece of work that’s respectful, it deserves a spotlight. That being said when it comes to publications, there’s always some direction needed for consistency.


More art and conversations here
More from Trishna Goklani here


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