POR­TRAITS OF HURT

A se­ries of pho­to­graphs at­tempts a stark take on the racism faced by Africans in In­dia

India Today - - LEISURE - —Ban­deep Singh (‘The African Por­traits’ by Ma­hesh Shan­taram will be on dis­play at Ex­hibit320, New Delhi, from June 2-16)

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.

©MA­HESH SHAN­TARAM, ARCHIVAL PIG­MENT PRINT COUR­TESY TASVEER

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