Of people, spaces and in-betweens

Sheetal Mallar
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By Sukant Deepak

New Delhi– Through the lens, she sees her friends in the little worlds they have created. She says she wanted it to be like a page in her diary — a little something about them in the spaces they inhabit.

It was last year that photographer and former model Sheetal Mallar along with Savio Jon thought about ‘Sheetal-Savio Diaries’, created during the pandemic.

While Savio wanted to shoot his collection, Mallar wanted to make intimate photo essays. The work is being exhibited online at Art Musings.

“Savio and I go back a long way. We know each other from our fashion days. I shot this series in Goa since both of us love the place. I feel the earthiness of Goa and what it evokes in me, are intertwined in the work I make here. It has been wonderful experience doing this with Savio. Such harmonious collaborations make the journey all the more meaningful,” Mallar says.

Stressing that the last year made her reevaluate many choices, the photographer says that it made her realise the importance of living in a community that one feels connected to.

“Being a city girl and a traveller, I had not realised the importance of ones’ neighbourhood and had not invested time in building interpersonal relationships with the people living close to me. The pandemic has made me rethink about the things that really matter,” she feels.

“The environment you choose to live in and what it can offer has taken on a new meaning. The activities you do to feel fulfilled, also becomes something to think about. This got me thinking again of a feeling that has been with me in the last few years, of being a part of a community that would be meaningful. Why do we choose to live where we live? Where do I need to be to be happy? Creating work that reflects these feelings feels more relevant now, than before.”

Talking about her journey from front to the back of the camera, Mallar remembers being drawn to the visual medium from early on.

She says that had always enjoyed movies, works of artists, graphic artists, graffiti, animation etc.

“I have also been painting ever since I was a kid. My first career as a model that started in my teens made me travel extensively. I always had a sketchbook and a small camera with me, and loved the idea of recording memories. So the romance with the camera had started way before I consciously realised it,” she remembers.

Adding that much later, when she transitioned into the second phase of her life around eleven years ago, it felt natural to continue exploring the medium of photography.

“As the journey progressed I knew I had chosen the right path.”

For someone who mostly documents stories that move her and the experiences she wants to have, Mallar says she is always drawn to sub-cultural stories of spaces, people in their spaces and the relationship they have with it.

“If it’s stories of friends, then it depends what the story is and what am I conveying. There is a level of sincerity and vulnerability that comes through with friends and people you know that’s special and unique. Saying these kinds of stories about friendships and feeling home is what I feel drawn to right now.”

However, spaces devoid of people, that give a sense of their absence is as evocative to this photographer.

She says in stories of friends who have moved away, she is interested in why they choose to live in one place and not the other.

“I am intrigued by the choice of their spaces they want to call home and their families that follow them. The way we are always looking for communities to be part of. These are probably some of the questions I am seeking for answers myself. The work becomes part of those questions and my pursuit for the answers. I am interested in revealing these layers that form the familiar ground between us.”

Mallar feels that there are multiple reasons why artists across the country are deciding to call Goa home. Besides a very eclectic artistic community, she feels the coastal state allows one the space to have a home/studio.

“It doesn’t cost as much as the cities do. The pace of life is slower and so if you are in the right state of mind it can be a space of peace and a place to be very productive. There is a sense of community which is so important to feel inspired and stay inspired. An exchange of ideas, getting feedback, encouraging each other all becomes part of it. I have always been drawn to Goa and have stayed here for months at times. Some day, I would like to have a home here.”

Currently working on a photo-book revolving around her relationship with her grandmother, she says, “This is something I had started ten years ago. It has a collection of photos, sketches, and writing.” (IANS)


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