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Nasra Nimaga's Interpretations Of Being, An Alpha Female+ Portrait Project Celebrating Women

Creator Nasra Nimaga won an Alpha Female+ Grant for her thought-provoking photo essay combining photography and storytelling to explore the challenging perceptions of womanhood and identity. Here we take a look at the images and stories she completed as part of the Alpha Female+ Grant-winning project. See her project and photo essay below.

Bri. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 200

Bri. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 200

Bri. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 200

II-kaya. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/160-sec., f/2.8, ISO 500

II-kaya. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/2.8, ISO 1600

II-kaya. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/160-sec., f/2.8, ISO 500

Madina. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 320

Madina. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 320

Madina. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 320

Sarah. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 250

Sarah. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 250

Sarah. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.2, ISO 400

Seana. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/4, ISO 200

Seana. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/3.2, ISO 200

Seana. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/3.5, ISO 200

Wafeeqa. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/3.2, ISO 200

Wafeeqa. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/3.2, ISO 200

Wafeeqa. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/3.2, ISO 200

Lucy. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/4, ISO 200

Lucy. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/4, ISO 200

Lucy. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/4, ISO 200

Janice. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/5, ISO 200

Janice. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/200-sec., f/5, ISO 200

Janice. Photo by Nasra Nimaga. Sony α7 III. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/160-sec., f/5, ISO 200

This project is a celebration of women. It is an ongoing photo essay that combines photography and storytelling to explore and celebrate womanhood. The project embraces women being unapologetically themselves and reaching whatever milestone when it is their time to do so. It seeks to reiterate that there is no single way to be a woman and each of our individual uniqueness is worth celebrating. The project includes creative portraits of selected women from different walks  of life and brief text about each subject based on their responses to questions posed that delve into their personal interpretation of womanhood as well as their lived experiences. The photos were captured during in-studio stylized photography sessions that sought to uniquely capture each subject. Each shoot was styled by myself (photographer) in collaboration with my muses; their respective inputs and individual style was crucial and I overlaid it with a unified vision for the project. My muses Bri, II-kaya, Janis, Lucy, Madina, Sarah, Seana and Wafeeqa are all women who inspire me and I am honored to have had the opportunity to capture them and share excerpts of their lives and stories.

Nasra Nimaga shares her Alpha Female+ grant-winning project, a photo essay of portraits celebrating women and their lived experiences.

A lot of my photography explores and seeks to challenge the complexities surrounding perceptions of womanhood, beauty, identity and engages a broad range of themes. This ongoing photo essay, made possible by the Sony Alpha Female Grant, is a salute to womanhood in its many forms. The fabric and choice and use of color were symbolically so important to the project: they together with the choice of setting form the poetic language that ties the project together. The fabrics are strong yet delicate and add color and movement and, like each of us, are unique with every fall, every drape, every fold and every layer yet tie the project together. My favorite aspect of portrait photography is my subject’s reaction to the way I capture them; I always want to be able to envision something and then have my subjects see themselves through my lens as a project moves from concept to final photo. You, know, have them look at the final outcome and see themselves, through my eyes and lens and get a WOW reaction. I strive to constantly remind people HOW amazing and unique they are, while also reminding my audience that there are endless ways to be beautiful and more importantly, that there is beauty in living one’s life authentically and unapologetically and it is constantly my hope that I am successful. Within my work, I find great meaning in (and love to remind people) the cliché quote that states something like, No one is you and THAT is your superpower.

The text portion of the project comes from text written by participants in response to the questions/ prompts highlighted below:

  1. About you – tell me about yourself in your own words
  2. What does Womanhood mean to you?
  3. Select at least one and no more than three of the following:
    • Share a particular story from your life
    • Tell me about a personal project or passion you are proud of
    • Tell me about the greatest challenge you have faced and how you overcame it
    • Tell me a little bit about what inspires you
    • What is the best advice you have ever been given
    • Some wise words you would like to share

Special thanks to my inspiring and wonderful muses Bri, II-Kaya, Janis, Lucy, Madina, Sarah, Seana and Wafeeqa; who afforded me their time and allowed me to drape them in my vision, I am hopeful they will love these photos as much as I do. I am thankful for everyone who has believed in my art, the Sony Alpha Female team for the opportunity and support, thankful to my family and all my friends for the endless support, thankful to every person who has ever afforded me the opportunity to learn by letting me photograph them and to every photographer who has offered me tips or answered my questions and, thank you to my shoot assistants whose assistance was invaluable in realizing this vision and who helped me document the process.

On Woman(hood) – Interpretations Of Being



Photos by Nasra Nimaga

About Bri

My name is Bri Scalesse. I am a model and disability advocate living in NYC. I have been a paraplegic since I was six years old and identify as a proud disabled woman. I recently received my MFA in Writing from Columbia University. I love traveling, thrifting, and connecting with other creatives.

On Womanhood...

To me, womanhood is about an eternal power. Womanhood is a lineage of strength and love and softness and empathy. Womanhood is about community and support. I feel my best and most beautiful when I am surrounded by my community of women in wheelchairs. 

On A Particular Story I Would Like To Share…

I was raised by women. First, my mother. Second, my grandmother. Third, my community. Women define who I am. My mother was the kindest, purest person who loved with her whole being. She passed away when I was six years old but I still feel that she is a part of my soul and spirit every day. My grandmother, her mother, raised me after my mother died. My grandmother is vastly different than my mother. My grandmother is tough and fierce and stubborn. My grandmother raised me to be unapologetically myself and full of fire. Without these two women, gentle and hard, air and fire, I wouldn’t be the woman I am. Without my community, I wouldn’t love myself as deeply as I do. I see so much beauty and power in the women around me and I realize that if I can see that in them, I can see that in myself. 

On A Personal Project Or Passion I Am Proud Of...

I am deeply proud of being a model. It is surreal to be living out my childhood dream. To get to do what I love for a living. I realize that is often rare. And it’s even more meaningful because I did not see representations of my body, of disabled women in any magazines or on runways growing up. Society never depicted disabled women as beautiful or desirable. To be a model, to use my disabled body to tell a story and bring fashion to life is so powerful to me.  

Something I Would Like To Share

Being disabled is not sad. Being disabled is not ugly. Disabled people live full, beautiful, important lives. Disabled people deserve equality.



Photos by Nasra Nimaga

About II-Kaya

This will always be a challenging question for me to respond to. I really just want to say, I AM! I am a humble daughter of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie the First. I have personally committed my life to helping those in need. I try to use my life as an instrument to spread goodness and to be a source of inspiration to others. I want my life to be a force to be reckoned with and this is how I would like to be remembered. I am simply a woman that didn't—and tries to never—give up. There are a lot of important things that made me who I am. I am thankful for the opportunity to shine my light and help others shine theirs.

On Womanhood...

Womanhood to me is love of self and others, it is light and unparalleled strength. Womanhood carries a great responsibility, a woman is the heartbeat for growth, development, evolution, peace, war, stability, direction, grace, and elegance. Womanhood goes beyond childbirth and motherhood and the strength of a woman is exceptional. To be woman has no end or limit. Woman is infinite.

On Something I Am Proud Of...

Witnessing my sister, Traciel, graduate from nursing school was a project that I am beyond proud of. You're probably wondering how this is "your" project? You see, when my sister graduated high school, she made a statement that I knew I had to change. She said that she was done with school. I am sure after exams we all feel this way, we just want a break from hitting all the books. My sister went on to working and being a mother to my beautiful niece Angelina. I remember saying to her, “Please return to school. I promise to have your back with books, fees, and whatever you're going to need that is within my power to give you.” I am not sure when she got the spark and whether I inspired her return, but she did return to further her education. I worked my hardest to stay committed to seeing her through. I knew she had to pull her own weight regardless but whatever she needed, if I couldn't be there, I made sure the need was made known to my parents. I just had to pull us out of our busy lives to make sure her experience at school was as smooth as possible. I hope the readers don't interpret this as self-praise. You see, I knew what it would take because I needed/need all that it took. In the midst of this world's adversities, I still had a lot to celebrate, give thanks for, and be proud of. This year, 2021, my one and only baby sister graduated and is now an RN. This was absolutely a project for me—seeing her be able to achieve her goals while being a mother was one of the most beautiful, inspiring things to me. 

On What Inspires Me...

To be honest, I am inspired by my own life. It's not easy for many of us. I think that each one should use that breath to be inspired. Every day, no matter the highs or lows, being conscious of this breath that I am blessed with is just enough for me. I am thankful that I am given the chance to create and make things happen, not just for myself but for others as well.

The Best Advice I Have Ever Been Given

This is a little tough because I've been given so much good advice from great people on life's journey. I would go with my father's advice, one day my dad said to me, "Always remember that you have options."



Photos by Nasra Nimaga

About Janis

I am an artist, photographer, and lately a senior model in this lifetime. I have enjoyed a rich life of travel, creating, and self-discovery, allowing me a calm inner Peace and Gratitude. For this, I am truly happy.

On Something I Am Proud Of…

I am quite proud of myself for becoming multilingual. I was a C- Spanish student in high school so when I went to live in Brazil several years after graduation, I wasn't well equipped. I spoke little Spanish and no Portuguese. Much to my utter thrill and surprise, I discovered my intelligence for listening and learning languages. I continue to read, study and converse in Spanish and Portuguese, as well as writing lyrics. My accent is good because as a sometime singer, I have a keen ear. This practice keeps my brain fluid as I age.

On What Inspires Me...

Nature is the Mother that keeps giving. I love everything about her and find myself chatting with trees and the wind. I find great comfort in her power. I re-create a lot of her floral brilliance in my work and find her beauty and bounty endless.

The Best Advice I Have Ever Been Given

Is the advice I give myself when I do mirror work that reaches the psychic inner child. That advice is to continue to love oneself no matter what. So many struggles and pains that engulf us are only seen through a certain lens that has been created from fears and doubt, coping mechanisms from an early age. Knowing this also gives light to the power of choice and trust in the Universe. I like to give this advice and support young people in ways I wish I had been supported. GRATITUDE is at the root of all my inner contemplation now.



Photos by Nasra Nimaga

About Lucy

My name is Lucy, and I am an Australian who has been living in New York City for six years. I am a wheelchair user who also has invisible disabilities. My favorite things are dance, makeup, reading, and supporting my community (wheelchair users). I am known for wearing bright colors and sparkles at all times!  

On Womanhood...

To me, womanhood is finding strength, beauty, and power in everything that a patriarchal society has told us isn't valuable or important. My womanhood is inextricably bound with my disability, and I am proud to be a disabled woman.    

On Something I Am Proud Of...

I am proud of my initiative Wheel New Yorkers. It is a community for wheelchair users in NYC, with the aim of smashing stereotypes, creating connections, and pushing change. I use social media and a website to share the stories of all the amazing wheelchair users in NYC, and information about living life as an NYC wheelchair user. I also run social events. I want to expand and improve it further, although it is difficult as it is entirely self-funded and done in my very limited spare time!

The Greatest Challenge I Have Faced

It often feels like every day is challenging for me, as someone living with multiple chronic and degenerative medical conditions. However, the most challenging thing was everything that happened after 2nd February 2016. That was the day I tried to stand up from my desk at work only to find that I couldn't put my right foot to the ground due to severe pain. I was told I had a 'sprained ankle,' but over the following days and weeks, the pain started spreading up my leg, accompanied by spasms and severe weakness. I needed crutches and, later, a cane to walk. It continued to spread up the right side of my body, as I underwent every type of test and scan you could imagine and saw more doctors than I could remember. I just kept going. I decided I wanted to keep on living my life no matter what was happening to my body. When the issue was narrowed down to being neurological, involving my brain or spinal cord, I was terrified by the potential diagnoses presented to me—they were drastically life-changing and rapidly fatal. I still just kept going—showing up to work with a smile on my face. By December, my arm was affected, and I couldn't hold crutches anymore, so I began using a wheelchair full time. By January, my face was affected, and genetic testing ruled out almost everything. In February, I was formally diagnosed with a rare presentation of Primary Lateral Sclerosis, a rare type of motor neuron disease. I wanted to cry—with happiness—because it is not considered fatal. Five years on, it continues to progress (it now affects my breathing, speech, and swallowing as well), BUT I'M STILL GOING!

Some Wise Words I Would Like To Share

"You can't change the cards you've been dealt, but you can change the way that you play them." I'm not going to pretend like it's easy living my life. I have seven chronic health conditions, most of which present in unusual ways, so doctors don't know what to do with me. I experience non-stop pain that sometimes flares up so badly that even strong opioids do nothing. As a wheelchair user, I face physical barriers along with discrimination every day. But we only get one life, and this is the one that I have, so I have decided to make the best of it. I choose to find ways to make the world work for me. I choose to show up for my community. I choose to help others. I choose to smile. I choose to play the hand I've been dealt the best way I possibly can, no matter what life throws at me.



Photos by Nasra Nimaga

About Madina

I am a visual artist and a writer. I inform about Muslim identity through art (conceptual, minimal, surrealist) by experimenting with concepts of modesty and other subjects within the Islamic realm, producing artwork that discusses intrapersonal and social issues. With growing Islamophobia in the world and the lack of self-confidence within the Muslim community, I put myself and my art at the core of what can adjust or significantly ease these dilemmas. Art is communicative and breaks barriers.

On Womanhood...

Womanhood is the unique swirl in my everyday latte that makes me happy to wake up and take on the world. It is this and the many other metaphors for the beauty and strength that we are blessed with. Womanhood is the path God has led me to and the choices I make as a woman of faith. It is not always easy to embody and live my truth every day, but I love to constantly remind myself that what anyone else thinks of me is none of my business.

On Something I Am Proud Of...

I am proud to have the gift and blessing of my art, but if I have to pick a particular project, I would pick one that I am working on with Nasra Nimaga entitled, “I dream of no Idols.” It has been an honor and I’m so blessed to be working with Nasra to capture my first real-life set design piece. I’ve also created a painting (the one featured here). This set design represents the facet of Islamic belief that shuns representation and anthropomorphism, which comes in so many forms. I can only speak for myself and my art that constantly strives to not draw humans and animals but instead use abstracted symbolic representations.

Nasra reached out to me about being featured in this series and I was excited but I told her I didn't feel comfortable having my face photographed and published. Most people would likely find this odd, but not Nasra. She embraced it and asked me if I could create a painting that we could use as a backdrop for my portraits for this series, and so I did. This painting ties into the struggle I find myself in between the present-day materialistic world and the timelessness of scripture. It captures this Safa and Marwa (struggle) and juxtaposes this against my constantly striving to remain steadfast in my faith, trying to hold on to the remembrance of Allah, and blocking out the noise and criticism that’s all around. Safa and Marwa are two historical hills in the city of Makkah that Muslims climb during Hajj/Pilgrimage, doing this serves to commemorate and honor the story of Hagar, the mother of Prophet Ishmael, in her search for water for her child.



Photos by Nasra Nimaga

About Sarah

I am a multi-faceted third culture explorer. Many see the world linearly and I do my best to see the many spectrums that exist and to appreciate, learn, enjoy, challenge, and immerse myself in them to grow as an individual, and through a collective experience that is life. I’m an accountant that paints, a petite woman who loves making pastries and chocolate, a CPA who doesn’t do her own taxes, a runner, a sibling, a friend. I am the aggregate of my life experiences, thus, I am evolving each and every day, hour, minute, second.

On Womanhood...

If you take the suffix -hood it means condition, quality, state. So, at its most basic level, it's to be a woman. However, there the complexities begin. It’s the global perspective of the plight of women that varies by continent, region, etc. It’s being able to see how the world sees me, as a woman, and not allowing this to limit who I am. It’s the freedom to know that we, as women, can be. 

The Best Advice I Have Been Given

Sometimes, you just have to trust your intuition. It may not be the popular choice, it may not be the easiest path to travel, but when you take that step, that very first step, know it may be evident immediately, after you’ve walked a few more, or after what feels like 800 meters or even a marathon; eventually it will be clear how each of those steps had you moving in a direction that without that trust in yourself, you’d have never gotten to alone. 

Some Wise Words I Would Like To Share

Someone who says they have never failed has never tried anything worthwhile in life.



Photos by Nasra Nimaga

About Seana

Beyond anything, I am a spiritual being. I am an artist and, in human form, I am a multi-faceted woman who exists beyond boxes that people try to put me in based on labels that only express part of what makes up the person I am. I have always been drawn to the exceptional and unique, that which is bold and that which stands out. I love fashion and live and breathe it every day. The clothing I put on my body, the jewelry that I wear, the makeup I apply to my face are all part of my self-expression. I wear color and prints because they make me happy and I enjoy being a model because it allows me to unite the various forms of art I enjoy most—fashion, dance and acting.

On Womanhood...

Womanhood is rather challenging for me to define, really, because I see it as something based on an innate feeling. I wasn’t assigned female at birth and stepping into womanhood has come with a lot of scrutiny. A lot of focus in the outside world is placed on the physical form when I feel gender identity and expression stems from the psyche at the root. I find it hard to pinpoint exact qualities or traits that determine being a woman and most things that are stereotypically associated with being a woman I think are actually just human qualities that have been divided by gender, based on societal structures that have been put into place to control people. I simply know within my core that I am a woman and that I find peace and comfort in this aspect of my identity. I find it empowering and enjoy expressing myself freely

On The Greatest Challenge I Have Faced...

I think the greatest challenge for me in life has been letting go—letting go of the expectations others place on me, letting go of people who don’t bring joy/aren’t supportive/bring too much toxicity into my life. I also find it challenging to let go of blocks I have created myself, but it’s something I face head-on and am determined to do.

On What Inspires Me...

I think Love inspires me most, whether it’s romantic love, self-love, seeing others express love to each other. I’m also very inspired by nature—all the beautiful colors naturally occurring in nature, the plant and animal life, the stillness, and silence.  I’m also inspired by anyone who is just living authentically without limits.

Best Advice I Have Been Given

The best advice I can think of is when someone I love dearly told me to let go of the struggle last year. It really stuck with me and I’ve been applying this to various aspects of my life because struggle blocks prosperity. I didn’t even realize how much it was affecting me until these simple words were shared with me. I think a lot of times in life things are more simple than we make them out to be.



Photos by Nasra Nimaga

About Wafeeqa

I am an Indian-Guyanese American. I was born and raised in Guyana and lived there until the age of 12 when I immigrated to the United States. According to author Sherry-Ann Singh, "Between 1838 and 1920, more than half a million Indians migrated to the Caribbean as Indian indentured laborers." My Indian ancestors were brought from India to Guyana after the emancipation of enslaved people in the Americas when the British needed workers for their sugar and rice plantations. Over time, these indentured laborers lost most of their native languages, leaving subsequent generations like myself unable to connect with other ethnic Indians. Living in multicultural America, this sense of being Indian without belonging and being Indian without acceptance from other Indians became even more apparent. Other people of Indian descent don’t typically see us as Indians, most likely because we lost our native tongues and are no longer linked with them through language. I also feel like many people that I have met do not know of our history or even understand the generational trauma descendants of indentured laborers continue to face.

On Womanhood...

Womanhood is a state of being, and therefore different for each of us as we are each a product of our background and experiences. I am an Indian-Descent Guyanese American Muslim woman. My state of being a woman is a product of my life experiences and background and in overcoming the struggles we are faced with and not backing down. This question reminded me of my great-great-grandmother, whose name I don't even know, but her spirit continues to live within me. She was brought from India to Guyana while pregnant. On open seas, she gave birth to a baby girl, who she named Ganga*. After her arrival to Guyana, like everyone else, she worked on a plantation. I cannot tell you much else about her life other than that she persevered despite all of this, and I exist because she persevered. And this isn't to imply that womanhood is solely about suffering or perseverance but more so to highlight that it is the sum of our experiences, good and bad.
*The Ganges is a most sacred river to Hindus and is worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism.

On A Personal Project And Passion I Am Proud Of...

My modeling allows me to connect with others and vice versa. It allows me to show others who I am as a Muslim American in a way that lets me control the narrative without compromising my beliefs. My hijab is integral to my identity. Over the last few years, actively pursuing modeling has brought me in touch with many people who were brought up in America not ever having known a Muslim or understanding their beliefs and values aside from what the media portrays them to be. This has been most valuable to me, to show them who I am and have them see my way of life for themselves. This has been impactful for many people who I now call friends and has brought about a change in how they were raised to see Muslims or used to seeing them in the media.

See more of Nasra Nimaga's work on her Alpha Universe Profile

Learn more about the Alpha Female+ Grant and how to apply HERE.


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