Having spent time in Athens, Mexico City and Dubai, I’ve always been drawn to big and complex cities. Working in a former villita (squatter settlement community) in Buenos Aires only served to increase my level of curiosity about urban challenges like low-income housing. So I’m naturally drawn to Zackary Canepari’s print from the Kathputli slum in Delhi because it deals with life at the bottom of the urban economic pyramid.
Zackary Canepari’s print from Kathputli brings to mind a film-in-the-making about the neighborhood, Tomorrow We Disappear. Producers Jim Goldblum and Adam Weber: “Since the 1970s, Delhi’s magicians, puppeteers, and acrobats have called the tinsel slum, Kathputli Colony, home. Last year the government issued relocation permits to the colony residents; the slum is to be bulldozed, cleared for development. High-rises and a shopping mall are planned in its place. In its modernizing, the world is losing places like Kathputli, and no one notices.”
As developing world cities grow at rapid rates, slums proliferate and the ranks of poor urban dwellers swell. While slums are known for their substandard housing, they often provide residents with proximity to jobs and services, and in the case of Kathputli, an artistically rich local culture. But because slum dwellers are often squatting illegally (although they pay rent to slumlords), they live in constant peril of eviction.
Because Canepari created these images before the current government plan, the beauty that his images capture and the reverence with which he describes Kathputli’s ‘cycle of tradition’ in his handwritten Backstory (below) are rendered bittersweet. The combination of all the white – the beard, the cuff, the bird – and the sense of depth created by his soft focus that would usually convey serenity and purity now begin to evoke melancholy. In the end, Canepari’s image preserves a quiet yet magical moment from this community on the brink of its final vanishing act.