Like Ants in a Tin City

REVIEW:  Vaarul/ Uday Kawale/ Like Ants in a Tin City /Sushma Sabnis

Artist Photographer Uday Kawale in his recently concluded solo,’ Vaarul’ brings to light the red, the blue and the grey along with the dank and lonely faces of Mumbai-Indians in the suburbs of Bandra..writes Sushma Sabnis

Work by Uday Kawale

In a recently concluded solo show titled ‘Vaarul’ by artist photographer, Uday Kawale at Artists’ Centre, Mumbai, one comes face to face with the concept of space and how human beings build their own territories even in a ghetto like settlement, fragilely separated by thin tin / metal walls. The works address the oscillations between belonging and ownership, personal and public spaces which come into play in this suite of photographs that the artist has displayed.

Uday Kawale has a BFA and MFA in Fine arts from Sir JJ School of art, Mumbai. The show title, ‘Vaarul’ in Marathi means ant-hill and the artist  having visited colonies of people residing within red tin-box like abodes, alludes them to be like the inside of an ant hill. With a muse such as the notorious Behrampada area in the suburb of Bandra, Kawale tries to capture the image of the intricately enmeshed lives of the people and the precarious balance that this chiaroscuroesque locality presents. Known for its volatile communal discord over decades, this zone also houses numerous third world sweat shops in shanty like outfits, to create consumer goods and commodities which are later displayed at high end showrooms or exported with hefty price tags. However none of these monetary exchanges reflect in the edifices here. The motor of a burgeoning metropolis runs on such fuels which keep it going at a subaltern level.

Work by Uday Kawale

Kawale captures the outer facade of these expansive colonies and the small square or rectangular cutout openings in these red tin walls, through which a sudden human head peers through, just enough to ensure existence of life inside these darkened alcoves. There are lamp posts holding dreadlocks of wires which illuminate the insides of this red tin metal beast. Be they numerous criminal outfits or low grade manufacturing units of clothes, bags etc, these tiny work houses employ migrants and help put food on the numerous tables across the metropolis. The humans residing within these compact spaces and settlements seem like ant colonies, hardworking and aware of the temporality of their lives. It could be a sudden all-consuming fire or a shoot out or political riot, and everything would be razed to the ground within a matter of minutes. Yet, there is an indomitable spirit which pulsates through these dark gullies that reflect in the bright hues of red and blue which these structures are made up of. 

Work by Uday Kawale

These images work as a testament to the pulse of Mumbai and its true residents. In some of the works, the humane element surfaces in these red faced structures, like little clues on a treasure map, a solitary clothesline, a thin curtain held down with two bottles of water, an ear of a burnt kadhai peering through the tear in the wall. Then there are the humans who peer through these square windows shaped like a television set, at the rapidly moving images of the world outside. There is a subconscious separation in the world concealed in the red structures and those portal like openings, with a promise of a different realm. Kawale captures these entrances of that realm, yet does so without invading their privacy.

Work by Uday Kawale

When one goes through this entire suite of photographs, one is made aware of the presence of a particular lifestyle of a large section of society existing in an underground realm, with no similarities to the shiny glass and cement edifices and spires which dwarf them in the given landscape. The particular socio-political and economical situation is evident without even entering these spaces. Kawale’s works in this aspect reflect a major section of those urban dwellers who are omitted from that urbanism which the world sees in real estate advertisements and travel guides. In a way he brings a portrait of a rung of society which exists like the engine room of a submarine, damp and dark, yet pivotal for the control of the vessel to stay afloat.

Work by Uday Kawale

There is a faint allusion to the works of Edward Hopper, where the artist captured the socio-economic state of the populace in America during the post war and depression era and the way the images remain minimalistic, vividly hued, while generating enough drama. In similar fashion, Kawale manages to keep the image minimalistic yet generate enough curiosity about what lies on the other side of those precariously thin red tin walls. The clues of clothing, vessels, plastic drums, etc are a mirror to the economic state of the people living inside these boundaries. One can discern a state of isolation on the faces of the people in the images, quite reminiscent of Hopper’s works. 

There is a serious air about these works by Uday Kawale, while they seem to herald time and again, the indomitable spirit of the Mumbai residents to trudge through all that is adverse come-what-may, one cannot ignore the shadow of isolation that looms large over every individual in this urbane live-wire, throbbing and extremely demanding metropolis. Survival becomes a din and a daily attempt to crank oneself up through numerous hierarchical rungs of society becomes a chore. Kawale’s works are objective and far from any misguiding pretty pictures of the humans of Mumbai.



(Images courtesy Uday Kawale)

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