Sirui Ma is a London-based photographer whose work resonates deeply with themes of belonging and connection. Born in Beijing and raised between there, New York, and London, Ma’s multicultural upbringing profoundly influences her artistic vision. Her photographs, characterised by a tender and loving gaze, reveal the beauty she discovers in everyday life, offering viewers a unique perspective on the world around them.

In June, Peach/pages proudly presented Little Things Mean a Lot, an exhibition featuring Ma’s latest series of photographs. Captured over the span of a year, this collection will be showcased at Hackney Gallery, providing a rich and intimate portrayal of life in London. Ma describes this body of work as a self-portrait expressed through the women she photographs. Her subjects, often seen pausing on park benches, wandering along roads, or resting in grassy patches, reflect the quiet beauty and intricate details of daily life in the city. This series serves as a mirror to the everyday experiences of women with Asian heritage living in London, offering an introspective look into their lives.

Simone Lorusso: Hi Sirui, It’s a pleasure to have you here. Could you tell us more about your background?

Sirui Ma: Hi Simone, thank you. I was born in Beijing, and grew up between there, London, and New York, though as an adult I’ve only lived in the latter two cities. I’m currently based in London.

SL: How has your multicultural upbringing in Beijing, New York, and London influenced the themes and style of your photography?

SM: Growing up in so many different places, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of belonging, be it culturally, geographically, or even mentally. I suppose I feel like I belong to all the places I’ve lived, and at the same time, none of them. It’s a constant theme in my work, exploring connections, whether to people or to the world around us.

SL: When I scroll through your Instagram page, two elements immediately stand out: the frequent use of East Asian subjects and the depiction of the human/nature relationship. These appear to be central themes in your work. Can you tell me more about them?

SM: That’s super interesting given the question I’ve just answered–I think subconsciously I’m always looking for ways in which to relate to my subjects, and one of those ways is to be able to see myself in them. When I was a kid I didn’t always see people who look like me reflected or represented in art or imagery in everyday life, so it’s something I’m quite conscious about in my work. In terms of nature… I feel a deep connection to it. I want to show people how I experience the nature around me through my photographs.

SL: Four years ago, you initiated the Artists for Asian American Federation fundraiser, supporting the Asian American Federation and Asian American communities. This social engagement seems to strongly reinforce your narrative as both an artist and a person, correct?

SM: I’m interested in people first and foremost. For me, my storytelling is always centred around human experiences, real life. It gives meaning to what I do. During the COVID-19 pandemic when we did the fundraiser we saw unprecedented levels of anti-Asian hate crimes, and we were all quarantining and felt powerless. The AFAAF fundraiser was our way as a community to take action and be proactive. It’s important to contribute and be a part of a bigger community, and I think as young people with platforms, resources, and privilege, it’s our duty to care and give back in whatever way we can.

SL: In June, Peach/pages presented your debut solo exhibition, “Little Things Mean a Lot.” Can you tell us more about the project?

SM: Little Things Mean a Lot is a body of work I worked on for a bit over a year. It then took another year to put together. The idea was quite simple, I essentially asked some friends to hang out with me for the day and I would take their photos. In the beginning I didn’t really have an idea of what the final outcome might look like, it was quite free-flowing. The project took on more of a form when I felt like I was finished with shooting and began to look through the work to find themes. The project is also named after a song I love by Bettye Swann.

SL: What do you mean when you describe Little Things Mean a Lot as a self-portrait through the women around you?

SM: For me, when I’m photographing, I’m often looking for myself in other people, or things even. I guess in a way thats what friendship is, to be able to see yourself reflected in those around you.

SL: What role do you see Peach/pages playing in supporting your work and the broader community of Asian artists in London?

SM: The Peach/pages team really helped me bring this show to life. This is my first exhibition and there were so many things I didn’t even realise I had to think about. They are a volunteer-run, community-centred non-profit highlighting Asian artists in London, and they made this feel possible and accessible for me. In the beginning I was super overwhelmed trying to take it on all by myself, I didn’t know where to begin. The team’s experiences and resources as artists in their own rights made such a difference for me and many others, and it’s so important that these organisations exist to support the arts community. I hope I can do what they did for me for someone else one day.

SL: You describe your role as a photographer as that of a “professional noticer. How does this perspective shape your approach to photography?

SM: I’m always finding funny/weird/beautiful little moments in everyday life. I’ve made it my job to share that with the world! It’s a joy.

SL: Lastly, what are your plans and aspirations following this exhibition?

SM: I’m just happy to be able to do what I love for a living. So my wish is to continue.