Patels in Multiple

imageTWINSPOTTING by Ketaki Sheth

PHOTOINK
11 Aurangzeb Road , 110011 New Delhi, India
August 21, 2010 – October 16, 2010

The question that occurs as one views Ketaki Sheth’s monochromatic photographs of twins is whether their anthropological oddity is on display to be stared at or to be gauged as a rarity that is after all as regular as the norm. The artist’s exhibition, Twinspotting, displays the fact that everyone is different, except monozygotic twins. The several frames of people who bear eerie physical resemblance to one another is a sharp reminder, in an individualistic world such as ours, of being linked with other people in a network of repeated patterns.

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Kethaki Sheth began her career as a photographer in Bombay in 1986, when very few women chose the camera as their professional companions. She later shifted to London, where her ‘twins’ project began. Sheth’s subjects- twins, identical and fraternal (and some triplets), are not random people the photographer encountered but people who carry a common cultural identity through a common last name- Patel. Traditionally farmers and administrators, Patels were known to possess great business acumen. Whether photographed in UK, where they or their ancestors migrated between 1800s and early 1900s or in Gujarat, the Patel twins both look equally ‘at home,’ as they draw us into their homes.

In her black and white frontal mid shots of Patel twins, Sheth uses sharp contrasts and deep shadows. The use of monochrome that emphasizes line, shape and texture accentuates the anatomical sameness of the twins as well as evokes the nostalgia of a bygone era. Sheth uses the frontal frame, and carefully constructed mise en scene to form tableaus that seem like pages from the family album. Her comparison to American photographer, Diane Arbus is something one is liable to slip into. However, a closer examination of Twinspotting reveals that Sheth indulges in a certain amount of romanticism with her portrayal of the twins, far from the unsettling quality of Arbus’s work. The Patel twins appear comfortable with each other, in their demeanor and body language- with arms slung around each other’s neck or one with her head on the other’s lap. The photographs convey a consciously engineered tone of the blissful togetherness of former womb-mates.

 

In photographing the Patel community, Sheth does not gloss over economic disparities. She photographs young lads in Gujarat leaning forward with arms resting on a charpoy as well as middle-aged men in black suits and ties, seated on a sofa with rich tapestry designs in a room papered with floral patterns. There is a leitmotif of geometrical patters that rings through Sheth’s work alongside the distinct details of the mise en scene that each frame carries. In, “Yesha and Niddhi, on the Swing in their Porch,” for instance, the young girls are pictured above a checkered floor, one lying on the other’s lap looking directly into the camera and the other facing the camera but looking off with dreamy eyes. The grill window in the background and the grid-pattered shadow that falls on the two girls is formally complemented by their own physical juxtoposition. One sits vertically while the other lies horizontally, echoing the boxy repetition of the light that frames them. “Jigna and Jilpa, Preston Park, Wembley, Middlesex” shows two girls who stand together in identical T-shirts, forming an illusion of two mirrors placed at an angle and conjoined in the middle. The touching tree branches in the background resonate the symmetry of life that all of Sheth’s frames seem to foreground.

Kethaki Sheth’s Twinspotting, is on till the 22nd of October at Photoink, New Delhi. It treads the thin line between giving us permission to stare at the odd ones and viewing humans as resonating and mirroring each other’s identities so that each one is unique yet linked to a double in ways both visible and invisible to the eye.

— Manjari Kaul

(All images courtesy of Photo Ink and the artist)

This article was first published @ Artslant.com

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