A selection of ground-breaking photographs of the Sidi community, an African minority living in India, by one of India’s most celebrated contemporary photographers, Ketaki Sheth, has gone on show for the first time in the UK at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The series of photographs, taken between 2005 and 2011, is an extensive exploration of this unique group and the result of Sheth spending five years travelling to remote parts of India to spend time with the community. On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent will be Sheth’s first solo display in the UK and only the second showing of these unique photographs since they were first exhibited at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi in 2013.
Sheth has a long-standing interest in the questions relating to identity and representation, and her poignant portraits of Indians of African descent raise universal questions about nationality and ethnic origin. Sheth’s photographs provide an insight into the lives of those in the remote Sidi communities, showing daily activities as well as events, including a young woman named Munira awaiting her arranged wedding, young boys playing street games, and the exorcism of spirits from a woman as a young girl watches.
With origins in historic trade routes, the Sidi community have called India home since the seventeenth century. Whilst they have adopted many of the conventions of dress, food, and ceremony characteristic of the subcontinent, they maintain a distinct identity and culture, particularly through music and dance, and often live together in small settlements. Descended from sailors, traders and slaves, some Sidi groups continue to think of Africa as an ancestral homeland, but nearly all consider themselves Indian in every other way. There are currently about 70,000 Sidi living in India and most live in the western state of Gujarat and the southern state of Karnataka.
Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs Collection at the National Portrait Gallery, says:
‘I am delighted to be able to introduce this special and important display of photographs to the UK. Sheth’s compelling photographs are true portraits—insightful pictures of personalities living in Sidi communities. The photographs explore the complexity of national and cultural identity and how this might shift over time, questions that resonate with many sitters in the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection.’
Ketaki Sheth first stumbled upon a remote Sidi village in 2005 and went on to spend five years visiting different settlements, getting to know the families there and documenting their lives. Sheth completed her BA in English Literature at Bombay University in 1979 before completing an MA in Communication Arts at Cornell University, Ithaca, in 1980. She began taking pictures of Mumbai in the 1980s, working with renowned photographer Raghubir Singh. Sheth is now one of India’s leading contemporary photographers whose past projects have been exhibited world-wide. Sheth’s photographs have previously been exhibited in the UK in group exhibitions at the Photographers’ Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and Tate Modern. Sheth is represented by Photoink