Sachini Imbuldeniya is the Creative Director of Bridge Studio, the multi-award-winning content agency at News UK. She is also the producer of the United Nations viral video You Clap For Me Now, and the Founder and Managing Director of Studio PI: A new photography and illustration agency whose mission is to promote equality and celebrate diversity in the creative industry.
Tell us about your background and what motivated you to start this initiative?
In June 2020, the UK Government's All-Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity found that certain sections of society are greatly under-represented in the creative industry.
Women. People of colour. People living with disabilities. People from working-class backgrounds.
I myself fall into all four of these under-represented categories and have had to overcome many hurdles and obstacles to get to where I am today. I have witnessed so many injustices throughout my career and personally experienced discrimination at every level. A few examples that come to mind: when I was told that I wasn’t allowed to put a black man on the front cover of a national magazine because ‘what would middle England think?’. When I was asked if it was okay to ‘photoshop my hands white’ because they looked nice but were too brown to appear in print. When I was hauled into an editor’s office and asked to ‘contact my people back home to investigate the sudden boom in the Indian sex toy industry’ despite me not being Indian, not being a journalist and not really having any great knowledge on the world of sex toys. When I was told by another editor that I wasn’t allowed to spend my personal lunch hour with a fellow ethnic colleague because she was ‘too junior’ to me and if I was seen hanging around with ‘inferior’ people I would never make it to the top. When I was shouted at because someone mistook me for the ‘other Asian girl’ on the floor. And, of course, getting paid significantly lower than my white, male, middle-class peers despite having the same level of experience.
For so long I was scared to speak up because I shamefully felt grateful to be ‘one of the lucky ones’ – one of the few minorities that actually made it into the world of media – so for years I decided to kept my head down and tried to fly under the radar as I was afraid of losing a job that I fundamentally loved.
But on the day that I became a Creative Director I decided that enough was enough and I owed it to the future generations of creatives to speak up. That was the first day I felt like my voice was being heard.
I wanted to use this opportunity to challenge the status quo, so I made it my mission to create an easily accessible platform that promoted equality and celebrated diversity – giving exceptionally talented underrepresented artists the right platforms to shine, and creating content that is a true reflection of the society we live in.
And as a result, Studio PI was born: a photography and illustration agency that champions women, people of colour, people living with disabilities, and people from working-class backgrounds.
2. If you had to describe Studio PI in three words - what would they be? Diverse, Inspiring, Visionary
3. What has the response been like so far? I was told that starting a new business in the middle of a global pandemic wasn’t the wisest thing to do, but equality for me wasn’t something that I felt could wait any longer – so I persevered despite the many obstacles that I knew I’d have to face. And three months on, I am so glad that I did!
So many Creative Directors, Art Directors and Picture Editors have shown their support by actively trying to diversify their content and commission our artists.
The media industry has been plagued with nepotism for far too long. Most people get a foot in the door based on who they know rather than how they good they are, and as the majority of senior positions across the sector are filled by white middle-class men whose social networks aren’t diverse, underrepresented talent rarely stands a chance to get in. The other issue is that too many senior creatives end up in a position where they often commission the same people over and over again because they know and trust them. But that can result in stagnant, uninventive content that doesn’t engage or inspire. What we need in the industry is more creative bravery that continuously pushes the boundaries – bringing in fresh voices and new perspectives that tell stories in an authentic way. I’m hoping that I have made it as easy and accessible as possible for senior creatives to find diverse talent by launching Studio PI.
Our current roster of artists were selected by a panel of 50 industry experts – via a blind judging process to avoid any unconscious bias. The most wonderful thing about it was seeing these senior creatives acknowledge that there is a problem we need to address, and understanding that the only way we can solve it is by coming together and collectively taking responsibility to make the change.
Considering we only launched in October we’ve been overwhelmed with positive feedback and really hope that we can continue to spread the word and provide our exceptional artists with the exposure they deserve.
3. Tell us about your team? The core Studio PI team consists of myself, my Illustration Agent Claire Cheung, my Photography Agent Tara Bonakdar, my Director of Operations Georgie Harwood, my Picture Editor and Producer Marian Paterson and my Designer Valentina Verc. I wanted to ensure that I had a team of strong, brilliant women who were all passionate about diversity and driven to make a difference in the industry.
4. Tell us about your talent? We currently have 9 photographers and 10 illustrators on our roster. This includes: Kofi Paintsil, Philipp Raheem, Martina Lang, Ejatu Shaw, Brunel Johnson, Jameela Elfaki, Ming Tang-Evans, Chantel King, Eddie Blagbrough, Selman Hoşgör, Ngadi Smart, Janice Chang, Harriet Noble, Sinem Erkas, Daryl Rainbow, Sneha Shanker, Gem D’Souza, Frieda Ruh and Ana Yael.
All of our artists are exceptionally talented individuals and their work speaks for itself. But If I had to spotlight a few I would suggest:
Chantel King: A London-based beauty and fashion photographer who grew up in a working-class, single-parent family. She built her own photographic experience and style for visual storytelling while working as an assistant, including a role as first assistant to photographer Matthew Shave. As a black female photographer she is aware of the lack of people like her in front of and behind the camera, and she strives to reflect everyone in society in her work. She recently did a shoot for Revolution Beauty that involved an all-female, all-Black crew, and was shot in a Black-owned studio to authentically support the Black beauty community.
‘Promoting equality and celebrating diversity should be normal working practice, but sadly it is not. In my ten-year experience, I’ve seen a lack of representation of people who look like me, both in front of the camera and behind it. For so long, Black creatives have felt ignored and sidelined. We live in a mixed-culture society, yet there is a clear lack of diversity within the creative industry. Representation matters at all levels.’
Ejatu Shaw: Ejatu is a fashion and documentary photographer who is currently pursuing her MA in photographic arts. Exploring identity, Ejatu often uses self-portraiture to reflect on powerful themes. She is passionate about lifting the black gaze and proud to be a black female photographer. Her documentary photography has included projects in Sierra Leone, supporting the Salone School Supply Scheme, which provides art materials and creative workshops for needy pupils. She is currently working on creating videos about photography theory and has the ambition to run workshops with budding young photographers in her local community.
‘I'm so excited to be a part of something as incredible as Studio PI and to know that my gaze and way of seeing is appreciated and understood. I think it's a great initiative, especially in an industry that historically hasn't amplified the work of black photographers. It is so reassuring having a rep that has my back and is passionate about the development of my career. It's also a great opportunity to learn how the industry works and how best to navigate it, and I look forward to sharing all I've learnt with my fellow photographers.’
Ngadi Smart: Ngadi is a visual artist from Sierra Leone and divides her time between the UK and Côte D’Ivoire. Her work plays with texture and is colourful and unapologetic. She likes to deconstruct mainstream society's preconceived views of what the definitions of “normal”, “beautiful” and “right” are.
‘Diversity is important in the illustration world because with diversity and inclusion, comes work that truly represents and reflects how multicultural and multifaceted our world actually is. When established organisations in the industry continue not to engage or seek a level playing field of artists from different racial and cultural backgrounds, it becomes detrimental to the way children and people relate to themselves and see opportunities for themselves in images.’
Sinem Erkas: Sinem is a graphic illustrator working with a pop style in digital forms, 3D photo-illustration and paper collage. Feminism plays an important part in Sinem’s work and her first illustrated book, The Girl Guide, has been published in more than a dozen languages. Her latest book series for children, Work It, Girl, champions the achievements of modern women, using 3D cut paper artwork.
‘People from minority backgrounds have culturally different ways of seeing and thinking to the established norms. I think it’s the minorities and the ‘misfits’ who see life differently that tend to produce the more interesting work. Maybe it starts with education. Studying a creative subject at a higher level today is becoming increasingly reserved for the privileged. If an art education is accessible and encouraged for everyone, then we will have a wider range of talent. If this can’t be done with education then let’s at least make the industry more accessible.’
5. What do you hope to achieve in 2021 and how can we support your journey?
The recent death of George Floyd and the subsequent BLM protests have created a huge shift in the focus towards diversity. It’s shameful that it took another tragic event to highlight just how deep the injustice goes, but this global movement has opened peoples hearts, eyes and ears and made them more aware of their own privileges and of the need for greater equality.
It’s fundamentally created an opportunity for us all to reset.
But we need to ensure that we react to this new awakening in the best possible way so that it not only has a big and positive impact right now but also the longevity and sustainability for future generations to come.
Studio PI is still in its infancy, and the biggest hurdle with launching any new business is letting people know that you exist. So my main goal for 2021 is to spread the word as far and wide as possible and hope that more Creative Directors, Art Director and Picture Editors across the globe will champion our artists and commission their work. The support we need from yourselves and the wider industry is to help promote us as much as possible so that we can hopefully reach a point where agencies like us are no longer needed because all sections of society are represented equally.
Find out more about Studio Pi:
Studio PI mission statement: The UK Government's All-Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity found that certain sections of society are currently under-represented in this industry.
Women. People of colour. People living with disabilities. People from working-class backgrounds.
Studio PI was launched to redress this balance. It exists to champion those individuals whose voices are not heard enough and whose talent is not seen enough.
It's a creative space that promotes equality, celebrates diversity and provides our nation with balanced visual content that is a true reflection of the society we live in.
Studio PI is my small contribution to help our creative industry embrace a better and more diverse future.
But this is a problem that belongs to all of us, and one that we should collectively help to resolve.
So I hope you will also support our talented artists, hear their voices, and discover their great work.
Founder & Managing Director, Studio PI
Studio PI website and handles: