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Racism under the spotlight

Published : Dec 4, 2016, 12:37 am IST
Updated : Dec 4, 2016, 6:07 am IST

The African Portaits by Mahesh Shantaram presents the colour discrimination faced by African students who study in this country.

Michel, Congo/Delhi. (Photo: Mahesh Shantaram)
 Michel, Congo/Delhi. (Photo: Mahesh Shantaram)

In January this year, a Tanzanian student was partially stripped and assaulted by a mob in Bengaluru, after a Sudanese student’s car ran over and killed a local woman. So shocked with the incident was Karnataka based photographer Mahesh Shantaram that he decided to document the life of Africans in India. “Talking about it still gets my blood boiling,” states Mahesh, as he talks about the genesis about his project.  His quest has now turned into a series titled The African Portraits, which will be on display at the Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA) this week.

When Mahesh began working on the project, he simply set out on his bike to Soladevanahalli, where most of the community resides. While his contacts helped him with references, he also researched about the African community on the Internet to understand the motive behind these attacks. However, his project did meet with some scepticism, when he first made contact with the groups. “They weren’t happy about being approached by an Indian, because there is a deep sense of mistrust. They are always guarded. Once I established a rapport and went on to tell them about the project, they were forthcoming,” explains the photographer.

Mahesh made a conscious decision to click his subjects by night. During his shoots, he used an eight-second exposure, where his subjects had to hold their pose for a few moments, as opposed to a quick click. Mahesh believes the timeline was crucial, in a way, to build a bond with his subjects. He says, “I didn’t want to opt for the click and snap approach. I wanted to tell them that this project is extremely crucial for me. Through the act of photography, I am, in a way, creating a deeper bond with them.”

The series is far from over for the photographer. Calling it an ongoing project, Mahesh says, that there is a lot more stories that can emerge. “However, what can change is the negative attitude that we have towards the community. We are a racist country; we lack the education, which is a huge problem. Hopefully, we can consciously take steps to address what is wrong, and change it.”

Till December 10, from 11am to 7pm. At Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA), CIA building, Rampart Row, Kala Ghoda

Tags: racism, african community