Monday, December 15, 2008

Shahid Datawala - Shadowboxing

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of sampling a bit of Delhi high life. With invitation to a private viewing, a friend and I made our way towards an enclave amongst the pretentiousness of South Delhi: Lado Sarai. My destination was Gallery Art Motif. The latest works of photographer Shahid Datawala, entitled Shadowboxing, were on exhibition. I expect the photographs will receive a warm commercial reception. Most of the imagery is front and centre with little abstraction for the viewer to decode.

A few comments must ensue about the neighbourhood, gallery, and crowd, before arriving at thoughts concerning Datawala's work. Upon turning off the main arterial road towards the gallery, our vehicle, fresh with filth from a congestion attuned most specifically to massive overpopulation, was whisked (five feet) away by valet. Venues nearby were receiving guests in similar fare. The gallery is, what I might suspect, the industry standard: dark floors and wide white walls, with enough space to exhibit a fairly substantial collection. Visitors included an entertaining mix of wealthy buyers, the artists and lovers who live off them, unconditionally supportive friends, and discerning colleagues. Thick-framed eyewear and raw-cotton kameezs were abound.

Datawala's photographs featured images of various (visibly failed) housing complexes in Mumbai. The work is rather striking and equally as conventional.

In reference to Untitleds 2, 4, 27 (pictured above), the juxtaposition of occupied space opposite the empty sky, of the glonky concrete overhang opposite the minuscule crow floating above, has already been tried and tested; it is the ying and the yang. Untitleds 12, 18, 28, 58, 66 share a similar aesthetic.

Several photographs feature a subject most centre and, hence, most obvious. Untitleds 5, 17, 23, 34, 38, 42, 73, 74, and 77 are examples of such.

Other photographs split the shot into three rows of contrasting colour, texture, and/or depth. Untitleds 15, 16, 39, and 40 are examples of such.

I enjoyed the following additions because their (possible) messages are not necessarily as straightforward nor as overbearingly simplistic (which is the risk one takes when documenting in black and white):

Untitled 22 is suggestive of a lovelorn story between home and dweller. A house which once gave shelter and warmth to a needy few now stands lonely, abandoned, and shrouded by unassuming trees.

Untitled 35, which is the most geometric and less organic, ironically, feels most natural; especially opposite Untitled 36. Untitled 35 features an angle that most could likely access. With the overhanging wall on the left, Untitled 35 feels like a shot one sees as they approach the stairwell ahead, whereas the shot of Untitled 36 feels imposed. Suppose you were walking down the hall in Untitled 36. As you approached the steps, your body would pivot 90 degrees, onto the first step and up towards the top of the stairs. It is unlikely that one would ever position themselves at the end hall way, negligent to the stairs nearby, only to stare straightforward.

I know I am insane. Thank you for entertaining me with your attention.

*images courtesy of

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