“The African Portraits, Mahesh Shantaram’s most recent body of work, documents the lives of African students living in India in a series of intimate portraits. Following an increasing number of racial attacks in India in the recent past, and particularly spurred by the shocking attack of a young Tanzanian woman by a mob in January 2016 in Bangalore, Mahesh Shantaram set out on a project to increase awareness of the everyday racism and discrimination faced by Africans in India.
With this project, Shantaram, a subjective-documentary photographer turns to formal portraiture for the first time. Beginning with Bangalore, he has travelled to Jaipur, Delhi and Manipal to record the experiences of African students in India. Shantaram chooses to particularly focus on students, as they are an extremely small and vulnerable group; having nowhere to go to seek redressal for their injustices in a society that is so prejudiced against them.
His emotionally resonant portraits force viewers to look beyond stereotypes— attempting to bring the stories and lives of African students to the conscious attention of the larger Indian public. Drawing attention to the individuality and humanity of his subjects, these photographs highlight the necessity of acknowledging and addressing the racism they face—and point towards the plurality of Africans, who hail from several different countries and societies and are yet nevertheless, unfairly and ignorantly branded in India by their continent of origin and colour of skin.”
( The above is directly from the Tasveer website that introduces Mahesh’s exhibition. )
I was thrilled I was able to make it – I’ve been following Mahesh’s work for many years and wanted to meet with him in person as well.
What I loved most about his series is that due to the nature of the technique he has used in photographing the subjects, there’s a slow shutter speed / long exposure at play. In some of the portraits, there are subtle movements around the subjects’ chests / abdomen areas as they breathe while the photograph is being made. This truly made the whole thing come together for me. Delightful. Kind of a “we all need to breathe, regardless of our skin color”.
The exhibition is up till the 16th of June at Exhibit 320 in Lado Sarai, New Delhi. Scroll to the end of the piece for links to Mahesh’s website and social media channels as well as those of Tasveer Arts and Exhibit 320.
You can see The African Portraits on Mahesh’s website as well.
( All images in my blog posts are clickable if you’d like to view larger sizes! )