The history of hip-hop is rooted in protest and has always been a cultural expression of the marginalized and the minorities. In India, even in the 21st century, there are rampant class and caste-based tensions, xenophobia, and vast income disparities. Today, with a focus on the youth from Kolkata, we are going to look at how despite these raging odds, these young boys with their distinct fashion choices and through grassroots hip-hop movement are finding a voice to express themselves. Soham Gupta, an eminent photographer based out of Kolkata, quintessentially captures this through his photo series Desi Boys.
Soham Gupta was one of the participating artists in the 58th Venice Biennale curated by Ralph Rugoff in 2019. In 2018, Soham was selected by The British Journal of Photography as one of sixteen emerging photographers. His book, Angst published by Akina Books was shortlisted for the Les Prix du Livre: Photo and Text Book Award at Les Rencontres d'Arles and the Paris Photo - Aperture Foundation First Photobook Award. The photographer’s work constantly moves between the realm of documentary photography, art, and the written word.
The photoseries Desi Boys captures the subculture of working-class young men so pervasive in modern-day Indian street life they are almost invisible and almost always unrepresented as subjects of photography. Gupta captures using a Nikon D750 camera and has kept his signature style of murky nocturnal backgrounds intact. His frames depict the realities of ideologues and narratives that circumvent the caste and class divide, democratisation of information through the Internet and its effects on the marginalised communities. The democratization of smartphones and 3G/4G internet in the country along with the rise in app-based service marketplaces that connect customers to service professionals has lead to a rise in demand for jobs for the economically marginalized youth. This provides them with a sizable disposable income, which helps them to indulge in fashion and music. The photographer says that the youth at the grassroots embrace the hip-hop culture because of its secularism.
"I have been working on this series of portraits since 2018 as the country’s socio-political and economic situation deteriorated. When your back is against the wall, the manifestations of dissent become more interesting. These signs: tattoos and hair gel, knock-off brands, piercings, hair colour and hip-hop are the signs of our times. It would be a crime if this is not chronicled for the future.I travelled to Khiderpore, Metiaburz, Park Circus, Mallikpur, also Panskura to click these shots and clicked three groups of people, including Dalits and Shiva worshipers."
Soham Gupta’s Desi Boys aims to become a vital documentation forming the wider global archive of lesser seen depictions of elements of Brownness by a South Asian such as the artist himself in present times of socio-political tension in the region. Gupta’s subjects hail from the most impoverished backgrounds but they appear confident, self-assured and in high spirits. The nighttime liberates and puts them on the spotlight.
"The early-20th-century Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam famously wrote about the power of youth in his poems, and taught us that the foundation of nations must be based on the happiness and contentment of its young population. This is only achieved in a space where everyone is welcome, where people can dream freely, read freely and speak freely anywhere: from Kashmir to Andaman, Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat."
Soham Gupta’s photo series Desi Boys is currently exhibited at the Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai till December 2,2022. Sakshi Gallery is located in the heart of Mumbai's art district in Colaba.
You can find out more about his works here.