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Black Windows of Bombay: Where every inch matters

A photograph by Avani Rao Gandra from the Black Windows of Bombay series  

Over a period of six months, artist and photographer Avani Rao Gandra visited Mumbai. Each time, she clicked photographs. She moved beyond well known landmarks and was taken in by the contrast between South Bombay and the rest of the city.

“In Hyderabad, we take so much for granted. Our middle class localities like Malakpet or Dilsukhnagar are plush in comparison with what I saw in Bombay. We’ve grown up being used to a certain luxury of space. Away from Bandra and other South Bombay localities, the city has many chawls, houses and apartment complexes with weather beaten black windows thanks to the sea. In these houses, every inch of space matters and the lack of privacy is striking,” she says.

Avani shot a number of photographs of windows — grilled windows behind which one can see household items, tiny sit-outs with clothes lines and potted plants, small windows from which clothes are hung to dry. A small steel bucket holds the clothes in place. Many images are in black and white, sometimes contrasted with a pop of colour. A few others are in colour, but the distinction between lifestyles is there to see.

A group of children beam from behind a grilled balcony, one sees endless black windows in a run-down housing complex juxtaposing a swish terrace that has a huge mural of Buddha, a colourful bicycle is tethered to an old pathway filled with clothes and another wall has a painting of B.R. Ambedkar.

We hardly see images of people, barring the portrayal of the frenzied commute in Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus or inside the Mumbai local. “I didn’t want to shoot photographs of people because that signals the end of a story. I wanted the pictures to kick start a dialogue,” says Avani.

The intention is to make viewers think about the quality of life in these chawls, away from the glitz of Mumbai’s film industry.

Avani exhibited these photographs at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, in February as part of the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.

The exhibition drew people from different walks of life, from philosophers to artists and designers. The images did trigger conversations. “Some people talked about what we gain and lose in migrating from villages and small towns to be a part of a burgeoning metropolis. The conversation also veered towards the lack of privacy and health conditions in these chawls. In many of these houses, there are no windows to allow cross ventilation,” says Avani.

The only hint of the glamour that the city is associated with comes from the photographs that show a store selling posters of cult hits like Mother India, Hare Rama Hare Krishna and a poster of Marilyn Monroe.

‘Black Windows of Bombay’ is on view at Iconart gallery, road no.12, Banjara Hills, till April 30.


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Printable version | Nov 21, 2021 11:48:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/avani-rao-gandras-photography-black-windows-of-bombay/article8466107.ece

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