So much has been written about frenetic Mumbai, a city always racing ahead to achieve, never pausing, never asleep.
In his new body of work, titled, Where the City Rests, photographer Shahid Datawala alludes to this cliché by taking pictures of spaces, devices and places where people do retire, rest or simply linger a while.
The exhibition at the two-month-old Matthieu Foss Gallery in Ballard Estate dedicated solely to photography, abounds in pictures of empty beds, chaises, loungers and types of chairs.
But Datawala’s intention for these predictable subjects is not to convey the obvious. “People often incorrectly summarise the works as a collection of pieces of furniture. The objects are metaphors conveying stories of the kinds of people who may be resting here but were never around when I did take the pictures,” Datawala explained.
People are conspicuously absent from the images, which is Datawala making a direct comment on them having hurried somewhere because the city demands it. The fine art photographer conveys the sense of rest through thought-provoking images such as fluffy white pillows strewn carelessly at a dilapidated building site, a perfectly plum bed with crumpled sheets, ravaged couches, makeshift beds constructed with scrap, mangled armchairs, a toilet seat, a grave and even BEST buses parked at a depot. “The lack of people in the frames is intended to confuse the viewer. The images should provoke them to question who belongs to these places of repose and construct their narratives,” Datawala, 36, said.
Many of the images convey a contrived sense of relaxation, but Datawala insists that none of the images are constructed and that he chanced upon each of them over a year. In the photographs that do feature people, it’s always a suspended limb and never the whole anatomy that the photographer focuses on. “It’s about time that photography gets a deserving space and recognition. I've been doing this for 15 years, but it’s now that photography has come to be accepted as an art form,” said Datawala, chief designer for Pallate, a high-end furniture design store in Mumbai.
Datawala confesses that he himself doesn’t get much rest. The kind of work he puts out is as much a paradox as rest in Mumbai. “I design very modern pieces of furniture but as a photographer I delight in the old, dilapidated charm of the city. I’m completely schizophrenic.”
(Where the City Rests opens today at 7 pm and will continue till March 13)