Reclaiming Sepia: Shanthamani's photomontages show photos of the city, its cultural scene from 2006 to 2008

Artist Shanthamani M’s show tells us why, sometimes, a city cannot redeem its past from the arrogance of development

Published: 27th June 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th June 2021 04:24 PM   |  A+A-

Photomontages by Shanthamani M, 2006-2008, Bengaluru, India

It takes a local to understand the irony in Bengaluru-based artist Shanthamani M’s latest work. Featured in ‘Past Continuous’, an online exhibition organised by MAP (Museum of Art and Photography), her art laments development’s inexorable bulldoze that has built over the vibrancy of the past. The universality of the work will call to outsiders too. 

Shanthamani has created photomontages from her photographs of the city and its cultural scene from 2006 to 2008; the period when Bengaluru was riding the dotcom wave. The city, she had thought then, would make a fantastic study of how artificial development intrudes into existing spaces. In the photomontages, the clashes between the past and the present are clearly visible.

Shanthamani M

Rows of colourful plastic flowers hang in a stall in the ‘Garden City’. Migrants selling plastic toy planes at the traffic lights on roads leading to the airport. Displaced Northern Karnataka artists proficient in quilting working in construction sites. Festival tableaus merging with chopped trees. Rows of freshly rolled incense sticks and silver tumblers filled with coffee. These were common sights of the past. 

“So many trades have disappeared since they are not financially viable anymore,” Shanthamani regrets. Not many people know that the crafts of today, like the Kinnala art, are offshoots of the art of the Vijayanagara empire. Development has stamped its indelible mark on the city and Shanthamani’s work reflects a yearning for a Bengaluru that does not exist anymore. “I have about 10,000 images and a few hours of video to show how the city has changed,” she adds.

While the documentation of a city under development is archival in nature, photomontages reveal how the past is viewed currently. For instance, the festive processions that still take place on the roads of Bengaluru are considered traffic disrupters. “But so many of these festivals were celebrated when some neighbourhoods were villages before the city grew by swallowing agricultural lands for roads. The villages still exist off the roads,” the artist says. In India the urban and the rural are symbiotic: rich city dwellers create idyllic retreats by borrowing from the leitmotif of the pastoral. 

“Earlier there was a distinct connect between silk looms, Karaga (a local festival) and the ‘Garden City’. My photomontages articulate the layers of Bengaluru since the time I have lived here. They are cultural landscapes, not just pictures,” Shanthamani points out. In the dominant motifs of today’s urban encroachment are tints of a bucolic past. 

What the show captures
● Movement, energy, religion, culture, technology, ecology and commerce in its images of old and new Bengaluru.
● Botanical gardens, forgotten statues, lakes

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