'Braided' Is A Photoseries By Sheetal Mallar Unraveling Memory & The Ties That Bind

BraidedSheetal Mallar

“Maybe it’s Maybelline, Maybe It’s Mallar,” reads an old article from the backlog of India Today magazine that has been backed up to their website. The article from ‘99 goes on to mention the model Sheetal Mallar’s recognitions and accolades and closes with the aforementioned line. But 25 years later, Sheetal Mallar has moved from the one being in front of the camera to the one behind it. 

While she rose to acclaim as a supermodel in the 90s, Sheetal Mallar seamlessly transitioned from the fashion spotlight to the realm of art photography, showcasing her innate talent and passion for the visual arts. In a feature from DNA India in 2013, Mallar discussed her shift away from modelling, expressing her readiness for a new creative path. She emphasised her love for photography since childhood, clearly indicating a natural progression towards new means of self-expression, as she has grown as a person.

Mallar's evolution into a photographer of renown was cemented with her debut show 'Transients'in 2020. Curated by art critic Ranjit Hoskote, the exhibition delved into the delicate relationships between people and places, exploring the layers of identity and aspirations embedded within. Even in looking through her earlier works, Mallar's fascination with cinema's ephemeral world is palpable, as she captures the essence of temporary spaces and subcultures adjacent to our own.

Through her lens, Mallar unveils the unseen, offering viewers a glimpse into the lives of naval officers at a restricted military facility, the illicit video parlours of Mumbai's suburbs, and the homes of cultural icons like the Ramsay brothers — yes the same ones to whom we owe the Indian horror-kitsch movie genre to. 

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Sheetal Mallar unveiled her latest exhibition, 'Braided' on Thursday, 11th April 2024, with the critic’s recognition and support from the India Art Fair. Now renowned for her introspective explorations of human bonds and the profound impact of memory and loss, Mallar's ‘Braided’ exhibition promises to be a showcase of mixed-media art that includes analogue photography, drawings, text, and even a photo book, tied together with a poignant narrative. With over 12 years of artistic evolution and hard work having gone into this project, ‘Braided’ resonates with emotive depth and encourages introspection in its audience. 

In being asked about how her cultural and personal identity, especially her relationship with the women in her family and the bonds she has formed with them, contributed to the narrative of this project, she talked about the ritual of braiding itself. She mentioned, “I wanted to use hair to look at the bonds that are created through the hair care rituals that we have with our mothers and grandmothers. This act of intimacy created between the mother and child means a lot more than just doing up hair. It becomes their quiet time where conversations are born and this kind of bonding is something I think we all carry within us.” She also went on to recount how as someone with a mop of curly wild hair, grooming was a ritual that she shared with her mother and the memory of the braiding process is something she still cherishes. 

According to the gallery’s website, the project began as an attempt to reconnect with the women in her family and became a larger narrative on intergenerational intimacies, depicted often through the ritual of haircare

“I had been away from home for a long time. I wanted to look at the bonds we share with our maternal lineage. I believe it is a circle that’s just as vulnerable, as it is strong. It’s been cathartic for me, looking at relationships that have been at my core. In some ways, this work has been an attempt to reconnect with them and find my way back home and to parts of myself that I had lost. I wanted to look at memory, loss, and ageing as a woman.”

Sheetal Mallar, Art Musings Gallery Website

Drawing from her journey as a supermodel-turned-photographer, Sheetal Mallar's upcoming exhibition stands as a testament to the transformative power of art and the enduring pursuit of creative expression. Influenced deeply by Mumbai - the city she grew up in and telling stories that draw from the life that she has lived, Sheetal Mallar continues to capture life and it's transient nature. Through 'Braided' she has captured the different stages of her life, even reflecting the changes in her surroundings and of herself as a woman, living and growing in India. She went on to mention how for her, ”At different stages in our life, we have different stories to say. For now, I feel drawn to stories of people, the spaces they inhabit and communities they want to be part of, and exploring the delicate relationships that bind people to places.”

As the curtain rises to the wide public on "Braided," at Art Musings Gallery, and she releases its photobook to the public as well, Mallar invites one to immerse themself in her emotive narrative that captures the essence of familial bonds, identity, and self-discovery.

Follow her here.

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