PORTRAITS OF HURT
A series of photographs attempts a stark take on the racism faced by Africans in India
The 25 images in this forthcoming exhibition from Tasveer, the Bengaluru gallery showcasing Indian photography, are an earnest portrayal of the impact of racism on the psyche of its victims. Done in the formal portrait style—where subjects ‘sit’ for pictures—this is the work of a promising Bengaluru-based photographer, Mahesh Shantaram, who was traumatised by the mob attack on a Tanzanian woman in January last year. With his grief as a filter for his lens, he took pictures of African youths in several cities across India. This, with the intent to draw attention to their individuality and humanity.
Shantaram’s pictures have a distinct ability to ‘extract’ and examine his subjects, even in the most chaotic situations—like a garish middle class wedding or a hectic election campaign (subjects of his earlier work). He captures people in a manner that makes them visuals in a larger social comment. This makes him ideally suited to photograph a subject like racism in daily life.
He goes close—establishing intimate bonds with his subjects and photographing them in their homes, neighbourhoods and territories of their personal space. Shot entirely at night using harsh light and saturated colours, he pictures lonely faces staring dispassionately into nothingness, to convey alienation and vulnerability. But he doesn’t go any farther than that.
Instead of following his subjects in everyday situations as they navigate the discrimination they face, Shantaram repeats the lonely figure with the blank stare as a constant for all his images. It dilutes the anguish in the images and as a body of work, shows just the discriminated, not the discrimination.