THE GENTLE ART OF HONESTY.
In an age where personal branding and a carefully curated image is everything, there can be nothing scarier than utter honesty with yourself. And yet that is what Sophia Thakur has been doing all her life — laying her feelings bare in front of complete strangers. The spoken word artist and poet, who is a champion of self-expression, has joined up with MINI to spread the message of Big Love. We spoke to her for International Women’s Day to talk self-discovery, honesty, empowerment, and — of course — love.
Sophia Thakur has come a long way in a very short amount of time. She is an award-winning, best-selling author and performance poet, who began writing poetry at 15 and started performing it live shortly after. Brimming with empathy and love, her powerful messages about mental health, heritage, empowerment, and self-expression quickly found an audience. She has most recently been announced as one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 for Arts and Culture within Europe, and has inspired various audiences across the world — from the Glastonbury stage to TED Talks to mainstream TV and radio.
Sophia is the author of “Somebody Give This Heart A Pen” and “Superheroes”, and recently launched her second poetry collection, “Wearing My Mother’s Heart”.
She’s also recently been reaching new audiences by putting music to her words. We can’t imagine a better ambassador for Big Love.
What is Big Love?
Big Love is the optimistic MINI attitude to life, open to all, no driver’s license needed. It drives us forward and guides everything we do – two little words with the power to inspire a world of positive action. It is our belief that we can bring a positive change to the world. With partnerships and unique projects, we hope to make an impact with diversity, sustainability, and more.
Compelled to create.
But what drew her to poetry? And what is her message for you?
The two pillars of Sophia’s life and work are her honesty and her love. The first-generation London native basically inherited the latter. “Both of my parents are half Gambian, which is in West Africa, and both of my grandfathers are Southeast Asian. My dad’s father’s Indian, my mum’s father is Sri Lankan. Every single person in my household is half Gambian, half Asian, and it’s quite a miracle that they met with such similar stories, such similar backgrounds.”
A small miracle, possibly, but there’s another family fact that influenced her. “Both my grandmothers were of different religions to their partners, but they decided to pick love. That was more important to them than family, or how others would look at them. They just wanted to pick love. And I think we’ve all been in that situation.” Sophia’s commitment to love and kindness is thus basically a family tradition. But what about poetry?
Unsurprisingly, the drive to write came from within. “I’ve always had really big emotions. Growing up I was told that I was quite sensitive, probably a bit too sensitive. There was no middle ground with my emotions. I think that writing and having that outlet was my balance.” Sophia is quick to make it clear that self-expression is much more than self-therapy. It is a way for a person to understand – and love – themselves. “Poetry is giving me time to feel out my emotions. Printing my heart on a page and then stepping back, seeing what I’ve been feeling, what I’ve been experiencing makes more sense than simply being angry, or upset, or just really happy. Writing it down helps me understand it more.”
No thoughts without words.
Once Sophia discovered the power of poetry, she was quick to spread the love, helping set up a poetry society at her university. It gave students a welcoming space to explore their ideas and feelings. School rules, metaphors, or a rhyming structure were not necessary, but honesty was. Why? Sophia believes that the need for honest self-expression is what drives people of any age to poetry. “We’re always looking for a space to communicate, to express how we feel. We look for it in people, we look for it in places, and we look for it in things. I think poetry is such a space, which is why I think it will never go out of fashion.”
Honesty can be just as true for a brand trying to elevate itself beyond a product, like MINI. Sophia has worked with many corporate clients, and while some would keep poetry from mixing with anything commercial, she sees it as an opportunity. “It allows poetry to spread and hopefully empower other people to tell their story. That doesn't change no matter who you're working for. If it's a love campaign, I hope it encourages you to look to the person next to you and see something you love instead of something you don't.”
’’I hope it encourages you to look to the person next to you and see something you love instead of something you don’t“.
How Poetry Brings Us Together.
Poetry brings out the commonalities between people, and by speaking to the individual, it builds a community. Whether she’s talking about men’s mental health, female empowerment, or other topics, Sophia can connect to different audiences. “I have a lot of conversations with people who also feel these emotions in a very big and raw way, and then I pull all our commonalities together. Two people can think they’re different and divided, that they have nothing to do with each other. But you put them in a room and ask them to talk about the first time they were scared… You ask two dads from different cultures and religions to talk about what it was like holding their child for the first time. You’re going to realize that we’re a lot more similar than we are different. I use poetry as a bridge to remind people of that.”
Sophia hasn’t just written poetry. She has also produced a book of real-life superheroes – artists, actors, athletes, etc. – to inspire others. Her superheroes all have a secret power within, which they had to discover and embrace to succeed. But can MINI be such a superhero? Can we spread the message of Big Love together? She seems to think so, as she considers a brand a form of self-expression. “You don’t just get in any car. You’re very specific about what car you get, and oftentimes it’s the feeling that car, that brand gives you. When I put on a pair of Nike Dunks, I feel like a certain type of person. When I put on a pair of stiletto heels, I feel like a different type of person. Brands can lean into that feeling.”
Big Love means a commitment to something bigger, something beyond the core business. “If you’re a car brand and your thing is love, how can you show love in other ways? What other campaigns? What other things can you do that increase love in the world? If brands do things outside of themselves, it can change so much.” MINI shares this sentiment, and we hope to keep living up to Sophia’s and our own ambitions.
What about the actual cars? “Someone described MINI as a passionate younger sibling. And I love that cause I’m a younger sibling. I’m the youngest, in fact, which means that maybe I got away with a little bit more. And I’m uber passionate as well. I saw myself a lot in the brand in that it’s just this – literally – electric, passionate, quick, zesty colourful younger sibling that just wants to go out and touch as many people and change as many things and spread as much love and get as many people smiling as possible. And that just felt like me.”
And how will Sophia be an ambassador for Big Love? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer was already set in stone before we even met. “Whenever I speak to my nan, she tells me that ‘in everything you create, never offend, never judge, never criticize, only seek to inspire and educate.’ Offending someone does not close the gap between people. Judging someone does not close the gap between people. The only thing that can be a bridge is leading with love.” We can’t wait.
SOPHIA THAKUR’S LOVELY SUGGESTIONS.
Sophia has said that she would love to be able to experience some of her favourite works of art again for the first time. Here are some of her suggestions.
Song: Jake Isaacs – Gold (featuring India Arie)“I just remember the first time I heard it thinking it was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. And I listened to it on loop, for like, an hour.”
Book: bell hooks – All About Love“I remember the first time I saw love in grief, the first time I saw love in friendship, the first time I saw love at a funeral. It just blew my mind.”
Book: Book of Proverbs from The Bible“I just remember thinking, wow, like, these are really good captions for like pictures (laughs). I imagined The Bible to just be a book of one man's life, told through different people. But suddenly there was this masterpiece of poetry in the centre of this book. I’d love to read it for the first time again.”
’’You’re going to realize that we’re a lot more similar than we are different.“
MINI and Sophia are collaborating for the first time for International Women’s Day. She has written a poem for the occasion that reveals more of her positivity, gentleness, and love than any other description could.
Hey, it’s so good to see you again.
She whispers to her reflection after spending some days away from her most brave and her most bold. But oh… how the wind has driven her back to remember exactly who she is and why even if her skin is different, or her culture is new here… any corner of the world would be lucky to view her. Lucky to have her remembering to step back into her power, her skill, her grace. To every different woman’s reflection, I say…
You’re every bit as brilliant and beautiful as this day. But you were all of these things before anyone even says. You are built on the strength of a past that was brave enough to put fear last and demand change… and now look at us. How women’s lives everywhere are filled with the biggest love.
And if I can do anything I hope I can remind you to remindyour reflection that someone somewherehas taken the time to sow a seed in you, they’ve believed in you, and they’ve extended love in the form of faith in you, and they’ve reminded you who made this face for you. The women before you who changed the entire game for you, although history could not have her stand on it, she prepared this stage for you, she held this space and holds your hand, and she held her grace, in the face of a man.
During an age where women didn’t have a place to step into their bravery safely, they took that risk, blindly, faith filled that one day from their garden, from the weathered seeds they’d sown, that something powerful, something beautiful and something rooted could grow… and now look at us go.
Look how we glow.
A day isn’t enough to hold all of our glory. Hold all of the suns in the sky for a century, put a brake on the clocks and hold all of the traffic and have all the world’s sons pause on the magic of what it means for a woman to exist like this.
A woman has always been the literal centerpiece of what it means to live. But now with a thousand women’s stories in my mouth, a woman is what it means to sing and shake until glass ceilings break, until old mindsets change, until pride beats out shame and our bodies are reclaimed. I wouldn’t want to exist in anyone else’s skin. Not when I hold the heart of a revolution within, and I love nothing more than to wake up with it. To share that love out, to whisper strength into the things we’re scared about. I know what it means to fly on the wings of love. To feel my fear shrink as someone lifts me up. To spread my heart into the wind in hope that it’s enough to remind even just the one that the sun sets in their strength, for them to drive bold, into the darkest parts of people and be their lantern. Love is best when inspired and actioned.
There are few things I’m sure of, and of them all, one I’m more certain than the rest of them.
That love… it truly is the best of us.
Words by Sophia Thakur.
Photos: Rosaline Shahnavaz.