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Mumbai photographer Prarthna Singh’s first solo-book is a walk down the alley called Shaheen Bagh

The photo-book 'Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh', comprising visual stories of resilience and resistance, isolates individuals from the image of the mass movement as was seen on prime-time news and press photographs

Written by Benita Fernando | New Delhi |
Updated: May 21, 2022 1:04:06 pm
Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh, non-violent protesters, photo book, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh photos, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh review, Mumbai-based photographer Prarthna Singh, book review, eye 2022, sunday eye, indian express newsPortraits from Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh (Credit: Prarthna Singh)

Who is the perfect protester? We imagine raised fists, hurt faces, angry stances. We imagine climbing barricades, braving tear gas. If we go by this visual vocabulary, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh (Every Evening Belongs to Shaheen Bagh) takes us by surprise. With over 150 portraits of non-violent protesters, the photo-book gently challenges the imagery of contemporary resistance movements.

Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh is Mumbai-based photographer Prarthna Singh’s first solo photo-book (she had earlier teamed up with the authors of Sar: The Essence of Indian Design in 2016). In December 2019, after the Delhi police reportedly assaulted students of Jamia Millia Islamia University who were challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a sit-in protest led by Muslim women started in Shaheen Bagh. Under a tent, with hundreds of women and children on any given day, the peaceful protest lasted for 100 days, until the pandemic struck.

Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh, non-violent protesters, photo book, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh photos, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh review, Mumbai-based photographer Prarthna Singh, book review, eye 2022, sunday eye, indian express news Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh; By Prarthna Singh; 143 pages; Rs 3,300

Singh joined the anti-CAA protest in January 2020, spending most of her time on ground. Known for her women-centric narratives and portraiture work, she taps into her speciality to create portraits in an on-site photo studio, cobbled together with whatever was available at Shaheen Bagh. The result is these portraits of women, either looking directly at the camera or away, but always with a sense of pride. Poised and calm, the unnamed sitters indicate trust in the space, the purpose and the photographer.

Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh, non-violent protesters, photo book, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh photos, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh review, Mumbai-based photographer Prarthna Singh, book review, eye 2022, sunday eye, indian express news Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh is Mumbai-based photographer Prarthna Singh’s first solo photo-book (she had earlier teamed up with the authors of Sar: The Essence of Indian Design in 2016).

Our collective memory of Shaheen Bagh, as is often the case with resistance movements, is of the masses, as seen on prime-time news and press photographs. Indeed, mass resistance movements give rise to the most recognisable images in the documented history of the world. Vulnerability and resilience coalesce into one defining moment — people standing up to power and confrontation, whether it’s one man blocking a row of tanks or a girl offering a flower to an armed soldier. Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh trades the monumental for the intimate, asking us to reconsider what we mean by “iconic”. It isolates individuals from the sea of faces, almost as if to say that a movement’s power lies not in numbers but in the will of its people.

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Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh, non-violent protesters, photo book, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh photos, Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh review, Mumbai-based photographer Prarthna Singh, book review, eye 2022, sunday eye, indian express news Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh takes the form of a personal diary or a scrapbook.

Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh takes the form of a personal diary or a scrapbook. It contains drawings, a painting by artist Sameer Kulavoor, whose company Bombay Duck Designs has also designed the book, verse and a letter from one of the protesters, available in Urdu, English and Hindi. Some pages are deliberately uneven, recalling the makeshift quality of the Shaheen Bagh tent. While the book’s cost makes it inaccessible to some socioeconomic groups, Singh has shared copies with the protesters. A portion of the book sales goes towards Jeevan Stambh, an NGO working on the rehabilitation of the victims of the Jahangirpuri demolition last month.

During the pandemic, the Delhi police cleared the Shaheen Bagh site, painting over its graffiti and dismantling its art installations. In a country that is determined to erase and rewrite its history, one could say that a photo-book on a citizen protest is as good as an act of protest itself.

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