Belgian photographer Pascal Mannaerts has been to 35 countries in his 36 years, and India continues to be a place he keeps coming back to. “I realised what really attracted me was the human aspect; the stories of the people I meet and the places I go to,” he says. It shows in his photos too. For instance, instead of the sadhus and devotees that throng the Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi, Mannaerts’ lens tell us stories of women from the vidhwa ashrams.
The title of Mannaerts’ show “Fate Breakers: Stories of Outstanding Indian Women” which don’t need any elucidation. With over 40 photographs taken in 2014 across Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi, the exhibition curated by Jean-Philippe Bottin, director, Alliance Française de Delhi, focuses on six different story segments, each focusing on “ordinary” Indian women who are “fighting against prejudice and determinism.”
Included in the exhibition are photographs of acid-attack survivors, and of Abheena and Amitava, a hijra and a transgender respectively, who are now based out of Delhi. “Then there’s Sheela ji who runs a centre for differently-abled children in Varanasi where even now, being differently-abled means you’re paying for sins of the past. Seema and Uganta used to work as manual scavengers in Alwar and Tong, Rajasthan. They now earn their living by stitching and working in beauty parlours. There’s Manju who not only works for the well-being of sex workers in Varanasi, she schools their children too. These are inspiring stories,” says Mannaerts, about the subjects of his photographs.
Although they don’t really come across as subjects who serve the lone purpose of being in the photographs — the candid photographs look like they were taken by a friend. In this case, their friend who was welcomed into different homes, sports a Mohawk, doesn’t speak their
language, and on his right wrist, wears a red thread associated with Hindu customs.
“Fate Breakers” will travel to other Alliance Francaise centres in India.
The photo exhibition is at Alliance Francaise De Delhi, 72, Lodhi Estate, till March 8. Contact 43500200