The world of martial arts is largely unknown to the majority of Londoners, but a new exhibition by photographer Aneesa Dawoojee – born in Streatham, South London, of Trinidadian parentage – presents us with 40 striking black-and-white portraits of fighters from a community she knows well.
Aneesa has been a Muay Thai martial arts practitioner herself so could be said to ‘know the ropes’, and she frequently takes her camera ringside. However, these portraits are rather different, as each has the subject’s story to tell – stories that testify to courage in their personal lives as well as in the ring. Drawing on her previous experience as a mediator in the charity sector, Aneesa painstakingly built trust between herself and the fighters, who gradually shared their life stories.
Aneesa’s uncle was an artist and photographer, whose “black and white reportage was unique for its time, but classic and timeless today”, according to her website Aneesa Photography.
She told Soca News: “My uncle influenced my style in terms of my reportage documentary style, but for these images I was very much wishing to create something that was about the people in South London who come together through this sport [Muay Thai]. My mother’s outlook and understanding of people is what heavily influences how I work and think; she arrived in the UK in 1962.
Aneesa added: “I go back to Trinidad most years and I do hope to represent the island in small ways.”
- The Fighting Spirit of South London is at the Streatham Space Project, Sternhold Avenue, London SW2 4PA (round the corner from Streatham Hill station), every Saturday 10.30am-6pm until 3 December. Entry is free.