The Sidi: Indians of African Descent

Calling all Delhi-walas/visitors to Delhi.

There are 2 photographic exhibitions at the National Gallery of Modern Art that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Both exhibitions cover minority communities in India, but communities that are poles apart, socially and educationally. The juxtaposing of these exhibitions makes a visit even more thought provoking.

Ketaki Sheth’s stunning black and white photos of the Sidi community is fascinating.

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One knew, of course, that there were the descendants of African slaves and sailors and travellers living along the Konkan Coast. I remember once, on a day trip out of Bombay (as it then was) to visit an old fort, seeing a man in a village who looked completely African.  I wondered, researched it a little in those far-off computer-less days, and then forgot all about him.

But until I visited this fabulous photographic exhibition, I had no idea that the Sidi community numbers some 70,000 (more than the Parsis…more anon), and that they have been in India for centuries.

Ketaki Sheth’s images are hauntingly beautiful, and very sympathetic to her subject. You never for a moment feel that the camera has been intrusive or exploitative. You just instinctively know that her subjects cooperated with her. These are definitely not grab shots, the kind we are all guilty of, but rather lovingly and sensitively composed portraits.

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What strikes one is the intrinsic African-ness of these villagers, who, despite bangles and dupattas, look every inch as though they are sitting in a dusty village in Botswana, say.

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I used to live in South Africa, and miss the continent enormously.  Visiting the exhibition with a South African friend who also lives in Delhi, we were both struck at how – well – at how African the photographs looked.  The faces and vignettes of village life could have come straight from a dusty “kraal” as opposed to a dusty “gaon”.

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Gorgeous images, which made me deeply envious (and deeply admiring) of Ms Sheth’s commitment to black and white, in a world where Instagram and iPhone selfies otherwise rule.

Highly recommended.

 

Gallery Timings:
Opens daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed on Mondays and National Holidays.

Entry Charges:
Indian: Rs: 10/-
Foreign National: Rs: 150/-
Student / Child: Rs: 1/-

 

Seriously, NGMA, seriously ? Rs 150 for foreigners vs Rs 10 for locals…

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