art world

Half Naked Nude: An Indian artist seeks sensuality in debris on the beach and in household objects

Shahid Datawala makes art out of everyday things.

It was an overcast day at the beach near Vaitarna, Thane, and artist-photographer Shahid Datawala had ventured out for a walk with his friend Joy Datta. At the beach, Datawala and Datta were surrounded by the washed up debris of discarded things, caught in sand that was choked by a recent oil-spill. Instead of garbage, Datawala says he saw intriguing shapes and sensuous forms.

He returned the next day with his camera to capture these shapes, half embedded in earth but peeking out in shades of blue and yellow. “It was pouring while I was taking the pictures, with Joy holding the umbrella over my head to protect my camera,” said Datawala. After six hours of taking photographs in torrential rain, Datawala knew he had all the material he needed for a show.

He calls this series of images Half Naked Nude.

Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy: Tarq.
Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy: Tarq.

The series along with another project done by Datawala, titled Unstill Life, will be on display for the first time at the Tarq art gallery in Mumbai from July 6 to August 5. The show, says Datawala, will be dedicated to Datta, for it was the late fashion photographer who took him to the beach on that rainy day.

“He knew me and my style of work very well and he knew that this sort of aesthetic would be right up my alley,” said Datawala. Datta died in a car accident in October 2016.

Datawala never felt the need to visit other beaches for Half Naked Nude. “I could have gone on shooting, but I knew I had everything I wanted to show in those pictures. We, as artists, feel that we have to justify our work by how long we have been working on it, but when you know you just know.”

Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy: Tarq.
Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy: Tarq.

The found objects along the beach remain unaltered in Datawala’s images and betray his fascination with the human body. A bright piece of plastic, buried in the sand, appears to approximate the curves of a woman’s body.

“I think it is important to take a minute and really understand your object or your subject,” said Datawala. “Like, during my fashion shoots, I’m very aware of every inch of the human body. I think while photographing anything you need to take that time.”

While Half Naked Nude celebrates the hidden art in found objects, his other series of work has been created from random things in his house that Datawala describes as a “mini-museum with its collections of scissors, typewriters and keys”. The photographs are the result of subconscious fiddling with these items. “The two bodies of work have two completely different visual languages – one is what I found and the other is what I already owned and gave another representation, but they are all bound together by the fact that they have ceased to serve their original purpose.”

Cargear. Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy Tarq.
Cargear. Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy Tarq.

Datawala dons many hats in his life: he is a fashion photographer and a designer of jewellery, clothes and furniture. His philosophy at its essence is unpretentious: everything is art.

“Everything is art and design and is meant to serve a physical or mental or visual function. All of it inspires some emotion,” said Datawala, who has been known to create jewellery inspired by the Bombay sewage system.

The first composition for Unstill Life came to him while playing around with a toy car. “I started stacking metal car gears under and over a blue toy car – just trying to balance it perfectly so that the whole thing doesn’t topple over.” The creation, called Cargear, became the first of many more to be made over the next few months. Most of the images in Unstill Life will leave the audience queasy – 50 pins pushed into a lemon sitting within a lemon squeezer or a telephone cord extending from a stuffed squirrel balancing a vintage, bulky phone receiver on its head.

Telefish. Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy: Tarq.
Telefish. Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy: Tarq.

“I would ask my friends and their kids to bring their toys or weird things when they would come to my house and some of those things have made their way into Unstill Life, like a friend’s 14-year-old son brought his panda bear toy from his childhood days and it’s in the show with the end of a little bulb as its mouth,” said Datawala.

The theme that runs through most of Datawala’s work, is that his constant goal is to give these found objects a new life. Ever since artist Marcel Duchamp’s installation, Fountain (1917), creating with found objects has become an art form. Duchamp’s Fountain was a urinal that was simply turned over, which has since been interpreted as the image of a seated Buddha, something erotic or even a practical joke. But, Duchamp had once described his intent to simply shift the focus in art from the physical to intellectual.

“While shooting Half Naked Nude, I was trying to see the objects strewn around the beach as remains of people, moments, travel, memories rather than just bits of plastic and fabric. Unstill Life to me is like tinkering with household things and seeing a visual emerge like a surrealist illustration of a surrealist narratives made up in my own head.”

Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy: Tarq.
Image by Shahid Datawala. Courtesy: Tarq.
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.