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11 Women Photographers Set Out to Chronicle India’s Diversity

Meet the 11 women finalists who made it to Sahapedia’s Frames Photography Grant 2018 and get a peek at the work they are doing to chronicle India’s rich culture and diversity.

Sahapedia, an award-winning online encyclopaedic resource on South Asian art and culture, instituted the Frames Photography Grant in 2018 as an exciting opportunity for emerging and professional photographers to explore subjects of cultural importance in India and South Asia.

From over 300 applications in the first edition last year, 24 finalists were selected. The process of selection, headed by photographer Dinesh Khanna, was done on the basis of unusual choice of subjects, unique perspectives and commendable camera skills.

“India’s rich and diverse cultures and heritage have always been a fabulous canvas for photographers and artists. However, photographers have not been provided enough support or recognition for the work they have done on this field. Till the Sahapedia Frames Grants came along to bridge this gap,” says Dinesh.

He adds, “We have endeavoured to award these grants based on the subject’s uniqueness and relevance and the photographer’s skill and storytelling abilities in bringing our heritage and culture alive.”

Sahapedia also made sure that a large number of women photographers were awarded the grants “so that they get enough support to pursue their passion and also get a platform to share their photo essays,” explains Dinesh.

Here is a peek at the projects these 11 women finalists will work on with their grants. The subjects range from performing and visual arts to architecture, gender, sports, and lesser-known local cultures, communities and age-old traditions.

Deepti Asthana

Baltis of Kargil (Jammu & Kashmir)

deepti_asthana_imageInspired by her childhood in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, the focus of Deepti Asthana’s work is gender issues in rural villages and small towns of India. The recipient of various grants and awards, her work has been widely published worldwide. Deepti will be visiting the Kargil region in Kashmir bordering the LoC. She will investigate the relationship Baltis who live in Kargil and its surrounding villages have with their built spaces, terrain and environment, particularly their unique architecture based on traditional techniques and materials.

Garima Agarwal

Shekhawati region (Rajasthan)

garima_agarwal_imageA post-graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi-based Garima Agarwal took up photography out of passion while working in a fashion marketing firm. Fascinated by the architecture and artwork of the Shekhawati region, she will be documenting Mandawa, along with the neighbouring towns of Nawalgarh and Fatehpur. She will look at these not just as abandoned spaces with only museum value, but as living spaces cherished by their owners. She will also investigate how local artists are keeping the Shekhawati art form alive.

Kanza Fatima

Zardozi (Uttar Pradesh)

kanza_fatima_imageA documentary photographer based in Delhi, Kanza Fatima’s work has centred on women’s issues in the Muslim community. She has exhibited her work around the world and is pursuing her Master’s from Jamia Millia Islamia. Kanza wants to document the embroidery craft of Zardozi as practised in Lucknow. She will look into the techniques, raw material and creative skill involved in making Zardozi, and investigate the working environments of the local artisans.

Kirthana Devdas

Thera ritual (Kerala)

kirthana_devdas_imageKirthana Devdas is a commercial photographer based in Chennai with an extensive portfolio of work with private and public entities. Kirthana comes from Mahe, and her family has been long associated with the ritual of Thera, a dance drama having roots in the caste dynamics of southern India. Denied access to public spaces of worship, Thera is believed to have been devised by communities belonging to the lower castes as an alternate space for worship and public conversation. The ritual has roots in tribal beliefs of nature, ancestor and hero worship.

Namrata Toraskar

Kulbi community (Himachal Pradesh)

namrata_toraskar_imageNamrata Toraskar juggles between photography, illustrations, research writing and architecture design. An architecture graduate from Mumbai, she is pursuing her Master’s from CEPT University, Ahmedabad. Namrata is fascinated with the weaving traditions of the Kulbi community in Kullu Valley. Kulbi women weave in their homes using throw-shuttle-frame looms, especially during the long isolation of the winter months. Namrata will look into the sources of raw material, working environment, local markets and the daily lives of the weavers.

Richa Bhavanam

Yakshagana backstage (Karnataka)

richa_bhavanam_imageRecipient of the Neel Dongre Award for excellence in photography, Richa Bhavanam was schooled at the Centre for Learning, Bengaluru, and studied philosophy at St. Stephen’s, Delhi. The Bengaluru-based freelancer is photographing changing gender representation in Yakshagana, a performing art from coastal Karnataka. Till a few decades ago, Yakshagana was performed exclusively by men, but has now opened up to female performers. Richa will go behind the scenes to document the lives of these women and their transformation into mythical characters.

Sharmishta Dutta

Dal Lake ecosystem (Jammu & Kashmir)

sharmistha_dutta_imageSharmistha Dutta’s portfolio ranges from portrait photography to fashion. Her photo project ‘Durga’, on discrimination against widows in India, was widely exhibited at international photo festivals and is now a book. Sharmishta will visually capture life on the Dal Lake in Srinagar and how local Kashmiris interact with the water body on a daily basis. She will look into the human geography of the region and how the architecture, crafts, agriculture, transportation and economics of the region are influenced by the intricate eco-system of the Dal Lake.

Shatabdi Chakrabarti

Baiga tattoos (Madhya Pradesh) 

shatabdi_chakrabarti_imageA media professional, filmmaker, writer and travel photographer, Shatabdi Chakrabarti made her debut as a filmmaker a few years ago with a short film titled The Man and his Saree, which questioned the idea of the ‘gaze’. She has been researching how the ancient practice of tattoo making is slowly fading away and losing its original significance. She will be living with the Baiga community in Madhya Pradesh and will document not only the artwork, but also delve deeper into the significance of the motifs and the traditional process of tattoo making.

Sindhuja Parthasarathy

Transgenders of Kashmir Valley (Jammu & Kashmir)

sindhuja_parthasarthy_imageSindhuja Parthasarathy is a humanitarian photojournalist based in Chennai. She has worked with various international organisations including UNICEF, and her work has been published worldwide. Sindhuja is a crusader for gender diversity, inclusivity and gender rights. She has worked amongst the transgender communities of southern India and the Northeast, and now wants to expand her research to Kashmir. Through her work, Sindhuja wants to shed light on the social, political and financial challenges faced by transgenders in the northern state.

SR Abbiramy

Toda textiles (Tamil Nadu)

sr_abbiramy_imageWith a Master’s from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, SR Abbiramy works as a visual merchandiser and has been documenting the different heritage techniques involved with Indian textiles. Abbiramy will work on the rich textile craft of the Toda tribe living in Tamil Nadu. Increasing exposure to the outside world has modernised their lifestyle, and Abbiramy wants to document how the textile traditions of the tribe are changing over time.

Sujata Khanna

Kung Fu nuns (Nepal)

sujata_khanna_imageDelhi-based Sujata Khanna is a social documentary photographer and has worked with several humanitarian organisations. Sujata will document the Druk Gawa Khilwa nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, home to the only female order to practise Kung Fu. Besides Nepal, nuns from across the Himalayas come to live here, each with a unique story about why they became nuns. In an inherently patriarchal Buddhist monastic system, the nunnery stands as a testament to changing perceptions about women and their empowerment through martial arts.

First published in the Jan-Feb 2019 issue of eShe magazine

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