Multimedia producer, journalist, and photographer Vaneesha Krish opens up about finding herself and celebrating her intersectionality while championing the same for marginalised communities in Malaysia.
Accessories: Vaneesha's own l Makeup: Advanced Génifique Serum, Teint Idole Ultra Wear Foundation in #049, L'Absolu Rouge Drama Matte Lipstick in #505, Grandiôse Waterproof Mascara / All Lancôme
Vaneesha Krishnasamy is not your average creative with a penchant for capturing pretty photographs and stringing flowery words together. She's an emotive storyteller at heart—one who uses her platforms to shed light on social justice topics that matter, albeit inadequately discussed.

Last year, she produced a three-minute video titled 'A piece to my racially and socially privileged friends'. It went viral for its thought-provoking sentiments calling out racism and inequity in Malaysia. Earlier this year, she showcased a portraiture series titled 'I'm Every Woman' for the Exposure+ Photo exhibition at GMBB KL. The project reimagines a diverse range of everyday Dravidian women from Malaysia as women of the past, to spotlight those often denied by society and to celebrate their existence and joy in spite of it.

Scroll through her Instagram page and you'll find a treasure trove of photographs and videos celebrating marginalised bodies of different skin tones, shapes, sizes, genders and sexualities, being their most authentic selves. Many of them come from communities you wouldn't typically see represented in traditional media—mainly Tamil and Indian, dark-skinned, plus-size, disabled, and chronically-ill bodies.

The 28-year-old herself exists in the intersections of four of those communities, as she would come to embrace along her quest of finding herself. It was that journey of self-discovery that led to her calling as a multimedia producer, journalist and photographer today.
Coat: Yen Wong; Accessories: Vaneesha's own
Remembering her roots
As someone whose work involves being both in front of and behind the camera, Vaneesha appears right at home during our cover shoot—taking the liberty of setting the mood with her upbeat hip, soul, and R&B playlist (Lizzo comes up quite frequently). In the middle of getting her hair and makeup done, the half-exuberant, half-pensive Rawang-born creative dives into her formative years and how they shaped the path she's on.

"Growing up, my group of friends was very diverse because it was a small town. We all lived very close by, so we basically spent a good chunk of our lives together and everybody was friends with each other," she shares with a smile at the recollection.

"It's where I learnt how to form perceptions about different people and to have compassion and empathy towards others," she adds.
That communal spirit was bolstered throughout her schooling years, as she participated in all sorts of clubs and activities from public speaking to writing ("I'm the kid who dropped additional maths and took literature") and photography ("I was using the auto mode, but even then, I was told I had an eye for it"). She fondly remembers winning a Hannah Montana singing competition at 16, earning a coveted spot to perform alongside local singer Shila Amzah.

"A lot of the things that I did in school were group-centred activities, and I did it with my friends from back home," she pauses—throwing an appreciative look to her childhood best friend who accompanied her on set—before adding, "I feel like an integral part of finding myself through the arts has always been with them."

However, things were not all bright and rosy. The reality of being someone from the Indian community—and facing systemic and societal discrimination for her ethnicity—was a difference she couldn't ignore. Aside from that, coming from a small town, especially one that isn't very queer-inclusive or queer-friendly, meant that the younger version of Vaneesha would not fully come to terms with her identity until adulthood.

"For most of my life, I thought that I was straight because that's just the default, right? You're born into 'straighthood' and conditioned to think that's who you are," she points out. "Seeing some of my friends who have also grown and proven differently has been nice because even though we're changing, it doesn't necessarily mean we have to move away from our roots. We can still grow and stay connected to each other."
Dress: Khoon Hooi; Accessories: Vaneesha's own
Becoming Vaneesha
Now more self-assured of her identity, Vaneesha attributes this to her relationship with the women in her family. "I think that so much of my comfortability with being both femme and masc comes from the duality of the roles that my mum plays in our family, as well as the comfortability that my sister has in her own identity.

"I learnt a lot from just the way they choose to exist and the way that they love. I feel like that has helped me to find myself along the way," she muses.

Despite her family's unwavering support, she never thought that she would end up in the creative field professionally. In fact, she was a science stream student who almost gave up her interests to pursue a more stable career.
"Somehow, society conditioned me to think that these [writing and photography] are things you do as a pastime, like you can never make a career out of them," she says sombrely. "That's part of the struggle of being a marginalised person—you kind of have to let your dreams take a back seat because you feel like you have to take a career path that will give you the best chance in the world to survive."

It was only after she earned a scholarship that she bit the bullet and enrolled in a Broadcasting and Journalism degree. Within the first semester alone, she had an epiphany. "I felt like it was what I was missing my whole life—the combination of visuals and words was what storytelling was to me. I knew then that this was it: my calling is in multimedia," she recalls with a passion.

Since then, Vaneesha has never looked back on her creative pursuits. She now produces content under her brand #DepthofV, which stands for Depth of Vaneesha—a play on the photography term 'depth of field'. The name serves as a reminder for her to always tell a deeper, multi-dimensional story through her work.
Blazer: Brian Khoo; Accessories: Vaneesha's own l Makeup: Advanced Génifique Serum, Teint Idole Ultra Wear Foundation in #049, L'Absolu Rouge Drama Matte Lipstick in #888, Grandiôse Waterproof Mascara / All Lancôme
The #DepthofV
On her creative process, Vaneesha explains: "It usually starts with a thought or question about a gap that I'm trying to fill: what has not already been answered? What is a niche that hasn't been touched or can be expanded on a bit more? I don't want to just add noise. I want my work to have meaning when it's out there in the world."

Sometimes, this would mean speaking to people from the community she hopes to represent. In order for their stories to be accurately depicted, they would typically be involved in the whole process from pre- to post-production.

Of course, she also enjoys creating just for fun. That's how she keeps her creative juices flowing so that the actual production can be a new, exciting experience for everyone involved.
These days, her work largely focuses on the intersectional inclusion of marginalised communities in the media and in society. Who better to champion this than someone who's lived through the very same struggles, right?

"I think it makes people from my community feel like it's something that's possible and not just a pipe dream," she says about putting herself out there as an intersectional creative. "I hate saying this; it makes my blood boil so much because it should be the bare minimum. Everybody should have the access that some of us had to work really hard for."

Having said that, she's well-aware of her own privileges as a fair-skinned Indian who's fluent in English and Malay, compared to her darker-skinned counterparts. She's seen the discrimination first-hand in contrast to her sister, who is dark-skinned. This colourism, she points out, is the result of continuous oppression, which only adds to the pressure she feels in her position.

"I'm grateful that I have a supportive community who reminds me that even though I have certain privileges, it doesn't mean that I shouldn't be speaking out. If anything, it means that I should continue taking up these spaces but, of course, keep them in mind when I do it," she contemplates.
Dress: Yen Wong; Accessories: Vaneesha's own
Intersectional inclusivity
With regards to whether we've made progress for inclusivity in Malaysia, Vaneesha says: "We've seen enough of marginalised people being used as placeholders. We've seen enough of tokenisation happening where the most you get is a marginalised person who's palatable or desirable in some way to societal standards."

"When we talk about the inclusion of marginalised people, what I really want to talk about is people who are dark, plus-size or fat, and are not conventionally desirable—which basically makes up a good majority of the community," she elaborates.
Dress: Khoon Hooi; Accessories: Vaneesha's own
Regrettably, she admits that the current sociopolitical landscape is far from ideal. Even so, Vaneesha remains hopeful about the future.

"Although there's still a lack of representation, inclusion, and progress that exists now, I think that slowly, there are people who are learning. Because I've seen it happen, I think the work that I do is not futile. I'm not expecting drastic changes or for someone to be completely anti-racist, but, at the very least, if it makes you think, then that's the first step."
As for her advice on how to be a true ally? "Accept the discomfort that comes with interrogating your privilege, reflect and do your own research. Don't expect people who are marginalised to do the work for you. It is labour that tires us out and often re-traumatises us too.

"Growth happens when you acknowledge your privileges and biases from social conditioning, but you can do better. Do the work, read, follow, listen and amplify the people who speak out about these issues and most importantly, make space for us," she stresses.

And if you don't know where to start, Vaneesha's Instagram page is a good springboard for your enlightenment.
Watch: Vaneesha breaks down her top creative projects
Editor & styling / sarah hani jamil
text & creative direction / Natalie Khoo

photography / AIMAN YAZID
videographY / DENNIS KHO
makeup / NAOKE CHU FOR Lancôme
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