Art Cities

Shadowboxing: Shahid Datawala

Architecture of decline

Shahid Datawala’s photographs of spaces in Mumbai meant for human habitation don’t have any people in them because he says that amid the chaos and hubbub, there is a lot of loneliness in the metropolis.

In his show titled Shadowboxing, he is displaying the photographs—which feature tall buildings, concrete shells of unfinished structures and dilapidated interiors—in pairs to highlight, as he puts it, the disparity of Mumbai’s living spaces. This disparity comes in many forms: “You’ll have flats here going for Rs20-30 crore and a slum a few metres down,” says Datawala. “Or, you will have incomplete buildings (only partially built) which have been like this for 25 years in the middle of the most expensive real estate.” Some pairs capture this dichotomy very starkly, such as the two stairwells placed alongside—one is spic and span, with smooth surfaces and sharp lines that intersect cleanly at various angles; the other has so much peeling paint and rubble on the floor that its dilapidated state looks almost grotesque.

Datawala’s diptych. Shahid Datawala

Datawala’s diptych. Shahid Datawala

Most photos placed side by side, though, are not about simple contrasts, but are often slight variations on the same theme—there are two doors, one looking into a kitchen, the other with a curtain and a mailbox, both pictures of well-worn domesticity. There is no obvious pattern to the pairing. “I have put the old with new, the old with the abandoned, or the new with new,” says Datawala, who is also the chief designer for Pallate, a Mumbai furniture store. “I want to provoke the viewer to imagine and to think.”

We are prodded to arrive at our own connections, as in the case of the sections of two tall prominent Mumbai buildings which have been juxtaposed so as to merge seamlessly into each other—it takes the contrasting light and dark of the skies in the two photos to remind us that we are seeing two buildings, not one.

While there are many images of decay and ruin—most strikingly, those of half-built, rubble-strewn, brick-and-concrete skeletons of buildings—what rescues the show from being a requiem to Mumbai and its architecture is the variety of newer and not-so-old spaces captured. With the frayed elegance of ornate balustrades and patterned floors, the stained exteriors of apartment walls lined with cast-iron drain pipes and punctuated by the backs of air conditioners, and the curtains covering scaffolding, along with the pathos Datawala captures the poetry of urban architecture.

Instrumental in this is his control over, and play with, light— shots of wreck and rubble in particular, have an ethereal glow. This perhaps bears out his contention that “depressed and sad places”, which people don’t care about are “beautiful spaces in their own sense”.

Prices start from Rs60,000 per print. Shadowboxing, organized by Tasveer, will be on view at Art Motif, Lado Sarai, New Delhi till 23 November.

Original article at the Livemint.