Time Lapses

A photo exhibition explores Bengaluru’s many transformations

Through her photomontages, Shanthamani hopes to understand the complexities of different cultures, rituals and structures, and how they interact with the city. Shanthamani M / Courtesy Museum of Art and Photography
31 October, 2021

In the days before the COVID-19 pandemic, any trip to the heart of Bengaluru’s Brigade Road and Church Street would involve wading through a sea of young people thronging pubs, cafes and stores. With curated street art, rental bikes, concrete footpaths and a metro connection over the ever-jammed but well-lit street, this neighbourhood seemed to have one foot in the future. But, beyond this facade of an urban global fantasy, the heart of Brigade Road continued to be in flux. 

Then came the pandemic. Down came the shutters, and Bengaluru’s migrants—both rich and poor—retreated as the city came screeching to a halt. Traffic eased up, parking became easier to find, even though you could not really go anywhere, and the glass storefronts of high-end retail stores started resembling museum displays with relics of the past. It was a time warp, to an era before the techies came to the city and transformed it into a technology hub. 

If you asked Bengaluru’s residents to reminisce about that time, they would tell you the city changed in a blink. In 2006, Shanthamani M, a Bengaluru-based artist, decided to bring out her camera and try to understand this transition. She created a series of photomontages based on her exploration of the city. These photomontages are now showcased in a curated online exhibition hosted by the Museum of Art and Photography. Titled Past Continuous, the show is available on the website of the MAP, a private collection in Bengaluru. Though the photos predate the pandemic, the exhibition’s timing and curation are a reminder of the constant shifts in Bengaluru’s urban landscape. Shanthamani’s photomontages tell a universal story of urbanisation pegged on economic development and growth, and yet she makes it uniquely personal and specific to Bengaluru too. 

“I felt that I needed to connect to the city. I came from Mysore and knew Kannada, and yet I felt like an outsider,” Shanthamani told me over a video call in June, just as Bengaluru was emerging from the second lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is a complex city, and we have these notions of who it belongs to and who it doesn’t.”