“Calcutta Rescue” is a voluntary organization founded in the UK by Dr. Jack Preger in 1979, committed to the task of, as the name clearly suggests, “rescuing” Calcutta. It has a number of altruistic functions to its credit ranging from offering medical treatment to those who cannot afford it, to providing literacy to the underprivileged. Calcutta has always been a city of incongruities, a disparity that has only grown more glaring in the phase of post-globalization, so that alongside increasing prosperity and swanky development, there are teeming multitudes that are homeless and without the basic amenities of life.
The black & white photographs of Donna Todd seek to capture this face of desolation breeding amid appalling squalor of the city. She concentrates on individuals and groups waiting for medical attention or wallowing in desperate filth. Leprosy-affected lives find special focus as this condition further alienates individuals in a society that is still, however anachronistically, obsessed with untouchability. One of the more grippin images is that of an old Muslim man waiting patiently outside the entrance of an eye clinic. Such images attempt to portray the presence of the rescue team, and how they have been able to make a humble difference in a great many lives.
For all its philanthropic intentions, however, there is something slightly disquieting about the entire project, as it consistently invokes and reinstates the Orientalist agenda, albeit in subtle, muted forms. The hangover of the “City of Joy” syndrome is, for all its truth and starkness, frankly a little tedious now. But the exhibition, by and large, manages to drive home the point of abject neglect, through vivid images of diseased body-parts and ailing human figures, and does manage, or so one hopes, to rake the much-needed material support for the project.
-- Paroma Maiti
(All images courtesy of the Weavers Studio Center and the artist.)