The Bohras who built Sidhpur may have moved on, but Sebastian Cortés reads their dreams in the homes they have left behind
Sebastian Cortés chanced upon Sidhpur, an almost abandoned and now little-known Gujarati town with a rich heritage and a distinctive vernacular architecture. He began to photograph the traditional habitats and domestic spaces of a comparatively lesser-known Islamic community, the Bohras.
Like other migratory Indian trading communities, they continually reinvented their identity. Their complex cultural make-up is reflected in their entirely unique architecture, an amalgamation of Hindu, Islamic, Persian, European and Colonial styles.
Haunting and dreamlike, his images often challenge the veracity of photographs, capturing the residual memories, history and fragments of life that linger in the intricate architectural features of Bohra dwellings. Cortés told us that Sidhpur has an added element that fascinates him: “the layering of visual, architectural and symbolic elements that seem to linger in the homes like so many ghosts. The psychological and metaphorical importance of rooms and what they silently describe holds my attention, and I want to draw the viewer into the pathos of discovery.” As he put it, the vibrations of the vacant rooms speak of the Bohras’ need to express themselves, what he calls “the exteriorisation of the soul life or personal values”.
Cortés took up photography in 1980 while at New York University, and went on to earn international recognition as a fashion and lifestyle photographer, while also maintaining a firm commitment to fine art photography. He moved to India in 2004, where he has focused on uncovering the unique inner landscape of societies and cultures: the evocative, simpler realities created within the bubble of imposed cultural stereotypes, the “quiet India” that is often overlooked.
Sebastian Corteś’s Sidhpur: Time Present Time Past is organised by Tasveer as part of its 9th season of exhibitions, in partnership with Vacheron Constantin. The exhibition tours India between 2014 and 2015.
Sebastian Cortés took up photography in 1980 while at the New York University film school. His work regularly appears in several leading international magazines. He moved to India in 2004. His critically acclaimed series Pondicherry, exhibited by Tasveer, was published as a photo-book by Roli Books in 2012.