Capturing the Subcontinent with emerging photographers
There is an Indian fable that tells the story of six blind men who were wise beyond their years, so much so that people came from across the land to ask for their wisdom on life. One day they were walking through the jungle when a loud beast presented itself in front of them. They were almost sure it was an elephant, so they walked up to the creature to feel it for themselves and get a sense of what an elephant was like. Each of them approached the elephant from a different angle: one feeling the spiky tusk, the other the wall of the belly, and so on. Consequently they argued about what an elephant looked like, as from each of their perspectives it felt very different – proof that even the wisest of people can be both wrong and right at the same time.
The Empty Quarter’s exhibition is named after this fable because to offer a comprehensive survey of contemporary Indian photography would be near impossible. The vast, varied and visually arresting country is like a kaleidoscope: everywhere you turn there is another story, another opinion, another set of people. Just like the blind men, each of these Indian photographers – living in India and abroad – feels a different elephant and everyone experiences a different India. ‘Sampling India: Of Blind Men & Elephants’ continues at The Empty Quarter, DIFC until July 31.
Mahesh Shantaram, 34, from Bangalore Using landscape photography as a form of social documentary, Mahesh’s series, ‘Matrimania’, shows the mess people leave behind after weddings. His vision is of a modern, nostalgia-free India and he celebrates the mundane, not the exotic.
Michael Bühler-Rose, 30, from New York Michael references the lighting, scale and composition of traditional Dutch still-life painting (prominent from 1550 to 1720), but instead of portraying typically Dutch items, he photographs the kinds of things you’d find in a Little India in any major city. He’s making a statement not about Western colonial power (the Dutch), but about a reverse of power (India settling into the West).
Neil Chowdhury, 42, from the US Neil’s father was from India and died before telling his son much about his life there; growing up in the States, isolated from Indian culture, bred an explosion of a fantasy in the artist’s head. His digital collages merge images from myths and realities and the past and present to represent the clash of ideologies in contemporary India.
Priya Kambli, 36, from Mumbai At the age of 18, Priya Kambli moved to the US, carrying her entire life in her suitcase. Her works are informed by the hybrid identity she has formed – one that is split down the middle. Filled with family snapshots and her present self, her work explores the mindset of the migrant Indian.
Vidisha Saini, 22, from Delhi These photos certainly capture the vibrant colours of India. They focus on the Behrupiyas – nomadic, costumed performers from lower-caste communities who change their costumes every 42 days. Under the monarchy they acted as messengers to other kingdoms; today they perform on streets and door to door, their characters informed by popular culture, history, religion and politics. In a way, they are documenters of Indian culture.
Zubin Pastakia, 31, from Mumbai Zubin was raised in Mumbai, but studied film in the US. His series, ‘The Cinemas Project’ (the above image is of a projection room), came about while searching for photo essays on Mumbai’s cinemas: all those he found were dripping with nostalgia that idolised the past and shunned the present. He chooses to explore the multifarious city of Mumbai by spending time with its buildings, seeing what they have to say.