If you invited to this page, you are truly inspirational

Revolutionary South Asian Women

Namaste! My name is Priyanca Rao, and I am a New York City portrait photographer.

As a creative person I am constantly inspired by other women from my South Asian background.

Every year I work on a passion project that is related to my heritage and tells a unique story. I was lucky to be handpicked to share a story about a girl called Rekha at Photoville last year. You can see it here.

This year, I am taking sometime out of my commercial projects to create something that is close to my heart. We have so many inspirational women in our South Asian tribe, and we don’t need to look any further. I am trying to build a body of work that showcases brown women who have a unique story to share. Stories that go against the grain, are who are not afraid to be themselves. I hope this project can be showcased in the form of a gallery exhibit, where all the incredible participants can meet each other. Additionally, I hope to print a special edition magazine titled ‘Revolutionary South Asian Women’ with stories and quotes accompanying the portraits. I also want to pitch the project to Photoville this year as a story on ‘Incredible South Asian Women’.

But most of all I hope these portraits inspire other South Asian Women to be themselves.

“I want to capture some powerful portraits of you and share your story with the world”.

-Priyanca Rao

Revolutionary women with incredible stories

I finished my MPH and my best friend said to me, “You have a lot to say, you should start a podcast.”

I started a podcast called ‘That Desi Spark’ in 2019. Since then, we’ve gone on to release 120+ episodes, interview celebrities and experts in social justice, health, and societal issues across the South Asian diaspora, and we’ve even been on Spotify billboards.

Annika Sharma, Podcaster and Author

One day, I bought myself a DJ mixer and went up to my building’s rooftop to jam. A few folks overheard me playing, vibed to it, and invited me to play at their party the next day.

I have been fortunate to have had amazing opportunities, such as DJing with Jay Sean, for Movie Premiere Events (Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ Love Again Premiere Party), political events (US Congress rally events and a party for NY Governor Kathy Hochul’s election win), the runway at South Asian New York Fashion Week, TaoGroup (Marquee, Tao, Highlight Room) and Somewhere Nowhere clubs, corporate events with Harvard Club, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue, as well as one of the largest Bollywood New Years Eve event in the West Coast.

DJ SZNaina

A proud daughter of Immigrants, I grew up looking to fashion as a means to express my South Asian American identities.

Not being able to find clothes that resonated with me in stores, I would mix and match outfits from my mom’s Indian closet and my own, to create an individual personal style.

Megha Rao, Designer

I’ve really rejected pre-defined narratives and binary choices my whole life, though I only realized it in just the past couple of years.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for over 30 years, and it wasn’t until recently that I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and on a much better medication and therapy regimen to support me.

Hitha Palepu, Multi-hyphenate

I am a product of a home of domestic violence. Very early, I ingested ideas on what it meant -to be a woman (second class citizen) -what it meant to be a woman with a voice (hitting). I’m a product of what my grandmother whispered into my mom’s ear. What my great-grandmother whispered into my grandmother’s ear. What my great-great-grandmother whispered into my great-grandmother’s ears.

I grew up, making a conscious decision, to craft a living using my voice I became a news anchor.

Joya Dass, Women’s leadership

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but somehow I learned to balance who I was while being proud of my faith and cultural identity.

It drove me to be a part of representing others like me in media and what drove me to become first Muslim and Bangladeshi woman to anchor in the number one news market in country. My journey was complex and came with numerous challenges, but I allowed every door shut in my face empower me instead making me quit.

Narmeen Choudhury, Journalist

One of my first jobs was as a bartender at a club in Philadelphia and it taught me a tremendous amount of patience and humility, values that have help serve the parenting feather in my hat well and also strongly influenced my work ethos.

One of the reasons I pursued a Masters in Social Work was to understand human behavior on a deep level. As a child of immigrant parents, navigating through cultural expectations while also adhering to western societal norms ignited a curiosity about the power of choice. How should I show up? The deep tradition of Collectivism that is paramount in the South Asian culture always seemed in conflict with the American ideology of Individualism.

Nita Batta, Mental Health

I got married through an arranged marriage after my PhD only to realize he was not the right guy. Went through a crazy arduous divorce and had to go back to India with no light in sight for anything. Lost my health and motivation completely especially seeing my parents so devastated. Finally, managed to come back to the US and start my life afresh on a clean slate again.

I am now CEO of a new startup (still in stealth mode) spinning out of Harvard.

Sukanya Punthambaker, Biotech Founder

At 24, I took a leap of faith and started my own law firm. It was a daring move, but one that resonated with my determination to be the change that I seek in the field of advocacy.

Much like a tapestry woven from different threads, all of these aspects of my life are an integral part of my story. Through this journey, I aim to not only become a better advocate for others but also to deepen my connection with my own essence and the world around me.

Abhisha Parikh, Lawyer

I spent my youth as an undocumented immigrant, an 1980’s version of a “Dreamer”.

Today, I am a Knight in the National Order of Merit presented by French President Macron and hold leadership roles in international affairs, government and philanthropy. I am a life-long advocate of women’s rights, and a vocal champion for sustainability and social justice. My contributions have been recognized and celebrated by the United Nations, the World Economic Forum and the French American Foundation,

Penny Abeywardena, International Affiars

My family went through a lot of financial struggles when I was growing up. I was lucky enough that my parents still gave me the best education opportunities possible, and it was up to me to make the most of them. I used to commute almost 2 hours one way each day to college to make sure I got access to the type of education I wanted. I learned to prioritize investing in myself and my future.

Along with my career in Marketing, I try to give back as much as possible by working with not-for-profits that serve some of the most impoverished neighborhoods of the country in the field of education.

Shyama Puliyanda, Alcohol and Bev Marketing

In my youth, I vehemently despised my Indian identity.

As South Asian women, our choices, ideas, and opinions matter – from dinner-table conversations and the most intimate walls of our homes to boardrooms – all the way to the ballot box. I will always work to ensure our voices are heard.

I became President of the Harvard Women’s Law Association (WLA) and the South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA). I believed it was important I spend my time in these two spaces because, for the first time, both these identities felt like the fabric of who I am and how I show up as a lawyer, an advocate, and a person.

Our home was always filled with love but patriarchy was pervasive in our household. I was disgusted by the differences in respect and expectations that I both witnessed and experienced.

Aanchal Chugh, Political Lawyer

Learning how to redefine what matters to me and finding a way to do what I love while being present for my family continues to be challenging but worthwhile. I think as a physician and a mother that it is easy to lose yourself in the role of being a care-taker.

I am working on creating time and space for myself to do the things that matter to me, for myself and also as an example to my children to find balance in their lives. I want my sons to see that Indian women are strong and hardworking and present at home, but also have careers and personal goals.

Dipti Palakshappa Padmalayam , Physician

Tell me more about the photo project…What is incuded?

  • Pre-photoshoot concept and planning
  • Wardrobe Styling
  • 1 hour photoshoot in at our midtown studio in New York City
  • In-person image selection + ONE COMPLIMENTARY PORTRAIT as a present for participating in the project 
  • Additional portraits starting at $250

Not included: Hair and Makeup artistry available for $450

There is a written component to this project, where I will send a questionnaire to collect more information about your unique story.

Girl, sign me up for this project!

Know someone who is revolutionary and South Asian, recommend them

via the above booking form.

Hair and Makeup

Photography and beauty go hand in hand. To achieve the best portraits we have a team of professional hair and make up artists who help us get glammed up and make you feel like a celebrity! Sip a glass of champaign, relax and enjoy the process. One free copy of our ‘Revolutionary South Asian Women’ magazine is included when you book hair and make up.

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About Priyanca

Priyanca is an award winning fearless photographer ranking number 1 in New York and top 10 in the US. Her work is influenced by her Indian heritage and fashion background. Priyanca graduated from the London College of Fashion with a background in Fashion Design and styling. Her strong sense of color and bold compositions make her photography powerful and moving. Priyanca is passionate about documenting stories and sharing a visual perspective that is often forgotten.