Advertisement
TV

The Big Flower Fight star Ryan Lanji: ‘I always represent the underdog’

Ryan Lanji grabbed fans of The Big Flower Fight with his huge floral dinosaur. It was an “exercise in visibility and representation” says the guerrilla curator.

“This portrait is really important to me,” says Ryan Lanji, the guerrilla club promoter, curator and surprise florist extraordinaire. “It’s the last picture that anyone took of me before I embarked on The Big Flower Fight.

“I remember talking to the Connor Brothers. They were like, ‘You’ll probably win’, and I was like, ‘OK, I will’.”

As will be known by viewers of Netflix’s The Big Flower Fight – a Vic Reeves-fronted, floral take on The Great British Bake Off – Lanji did indeed go on to triumph in 2020, alongside his then-partner Andrew Whittle. Underdogs with little knowledge of the limitations of their materials, Lanji and Whittle turned their naïveté into a strength, letting imagination run wild. A blooming great big dinosaur, a Yayoi Kusama-inflected infinity mirror of foliage, and a Tim Burton-esque take on Hansel and Gretel all featured in their lockdown-cheering run to victory.

“I was blessed to have been featured in that extreme creative competition during the pandemic,” says Lanji, who is speaking to The Big Issue on a brief break from his latest job, “filming a big Pride activation for a beauty brand”.

“I had no experience in floristry. But it’s an exercise in visibility and representation. The stamina I had, the intensity I had on that show came from a place of always having to hustle and always having to run to the finish line, just to be valid; just to be allowed.”

The Big Flower Fight introduced Lanji to millions of new fans internationally, but he’s been hustling his way to the forefront of the art and clubbing worlds since he arrived in London a decade ago.

Advertisement
Advertisement

I got beaten up by five people in London because of how I lookedRyan Lanji

Ryan Lanji

In his early 20s, Lanji was taking classes at film school in his native Vancouver. “I dropped out because of my queerness,” he says. “And growing up in a [South Asian] cultural family. They didn’t necessarily say that I had to leave the house or leave school, but I felt like it was a conditional transaction.

“I understand why, because I love my parents. I just had all these aspirations. I didn’t know where I belonged.”

On arrival in the UK, Lanji quickly found a job at a pizza place. But, after his first night’s work, a horrific experience changed his life for ever.

“I got beaten up by five people in London,” he remembers, “because of how I looked.”

The next day, he quit his job at the pizza place and found an internship at an art gallery. “People have near-death moments that really change their path. That moment stepped me into my truth and moved me into my power.”

Within a few months, he had curated Nailphilia – the first exhibition to highlight nail art as a form of contemporary sculpture. Featuring nails worn by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, it put Lanji on the map. A major exhibition for Revlon followed, as well as shows with young designers.

“I’d do a show and then I would hustle, do a show and then hustle. I use social media to keep the rent paid,” says Lanji. “But I only work with people I love. I always try to represent the underdog.”

This same instinct led Lanji to found Hungama – “East London’s Gay Bollywood Hip-Hop Night”. Again, operating on the cutting edge, Lanji assembled a rare space to champion queer South Asians.

“What does the future of diversity look like? For me, it’s celebrating everything,” he explains. “So I needed to create a space where we could heal, mourn and meet, but then I also needed to create a space for other people to come and prioritise us.

“We want you here. We just don’t want to be your accessory.”

This article is from the exclusive Connor Brothers takeover of The Big Issue, which is out now.Get the special edition, full of custom artwork and sure to be a collector’s item, from your local vendor or from The Big Issue Shop.

Advertisement

    Support your local vendor

    Want to buy a copy of the magazine? We have over 1,200 Big Issue vendors in the UK. Each vendor buys a copy of the mag for £1.50 and sells it for £3, keeping the difference. Visit our interactive map to find your nearest vendor and support them today!

    Recommended for you

    Read All
    David Harbour would rather grow up in the time of Stranger Things than be a kid today
    TV

    David Harbour would rather grow up in the time of Stranger Things than be a kid today

    Rainn Wilson emailed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to say Harry Mudd would 'fit right in'
    TV

    Rainn Wilson emailed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to say Harry Mudd would 'fit right in'

    Rowan Atkinson: ‘I always liked the definition of art as the rejection of the status quo’
    Comedy

    Rowan Atkinson: ‘I always liked the definition of art as the rejection of the status quo’

    Love Island star Brett Staniland on his surprising fight against fast fashion
    TV

    Love Island star Brett Staniland on his surprising fight against fast fashion

    Most Popular

    Read All
    Thousands march in London to protest low pay and rising cost of living
    1.

    Thousands march in London to protest low pay and rising cost of living

    Prince William: 'Why I wanted to work with The Big Issue'
    2.

    Prince William: 'Why I wanted to work with The Big Issue'

    Margaret Beckett: 'People think Boris Johnson would be a good laugh in the pub. He'd be late and not get a round in'
    3.

    Margaret Beckett: 'People think Boris Johnson would be a good laugh in the pub. He'd be late and not get a round in'

    What really happened when Prince William sold The Big Issue
    4.

    What really happened when Prince William sold The Big Issue

    Keep up to date with The Big Issue. The leading voice on life, politics, culture and social activism direct to your inbox.