Sooni Taraporevala: Home in the City, Bombay 1976 – Mumbai 2016 at The Whitworth

By Jo Manby

Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
On view until 28 January 2018

My third review (following from my review of Raqib Shaw and John Akomfrah’s ‘Vertigo Sea’) looks at the Whitworth’s current exhibition of photography by Sooni Taraporevala, and introduces the South Asia art and culture programme that marks the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India.

1_Sooni_Taraporevala_Salim and Tukloo Bombay 1987

Salim and Tukloo, Bombay 1987 by Sooni Taraporevala. Courtesy of the artist and Sunaparanta

The programme is part of the work of the New North & South network which involves Manchester Art Gallery, the Whitworth, Manchester Museum, Liverpool Biennial, The Tetley in Leeds and Colombo Art Biennale (Sri Lanka), Dhaka Art Summit (Bangladesh), Karachi and Lahore Biennales (Pakistan), Kochi-Muziris Biennale (India) and the British Council. The three year project aims to connect with diverse audiences on both continents through a programme of exhibitions and events that showcase the best of contemporary art from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK.

Sooni Taraporevala’s exhibition is part of The Whitworth’s South Asia art and culture programme. Taraporevala is a photographer, screenwriter and filmmaker who grew up in Bombay/Mumbai. Her first screenplay ‘Salaam Bombay!’ which was nominated for an Oscar. Subsequently she wrote ‘Mississippi Massala’, ‘The Namesake’, and ‘Little Zizou’, also her directorial debut, which won a national award. She left India aged 18 to study at Harvard on a scholarship and gained an MA in Cinema Studies from New York University.

Taraporevala exhibits here examples of her black and white photography picturing the everyday life of the people of Bombay. Ranging from an empty sitting room shaded from the sun and with a view of the Gate of India, to the captivating double portrait (shown above) ‘Salim and Tukloo, Bombay 1987’, the images are reflective and in a sense delicate, even though many of them depict great poverty.

The Whitworth’s text describes these images, which document scenes of Bombay/Mumbai over four decades, as ‘an insider’s affectionate view’. Taraporevala presents her own personal perspective on the interesting and strange juxtapositions that a familiar eye can bring to a city. A man’s profile is glimpsed at a party alongside that of a female sculpture; a boy stands precariously on a bicycle next to two older women, gazing out onto the scene before them from a verandah – hushed, faintly melancholy, and very beautiful.

The exhibition is guest-curated by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi for Sunaparanta, Goa Centre for the Arts, with patronage from Dattaraj and Dipti Salgaocar. Essayist and travel writer Pico Iyer has written a new text which accompanies the display. Taraporevala now lives in Goa and is currently working on a virtual reality short film and a television series.


Here are two of my favourite photography books  in the Resource Centre library collections:

River of colour: The India of Raghubir Singh, London: Phaidon, 2000. Raghubir Singh (1942-1999) was one of the finest documentary photographers and explains what India means to him, focusing in particular on the importance of colour in India.

The last Empire: Photography in British India, 1855-1911 (preface by The Earl Mountbatten of Burma) by Clark Worswick and Ainslie Embree, New York: Aperture, 1976. India had once been a wild and faraway place, but in Victoria’s reign the steamship and the Suez Canal made it less remote. The images presented in this book depict the history and presence of Victorian India.

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