New Delhi

Ram Rahman

Lalit Kala Akademi

A huge, buff bodybuilder flexes his muscles as three delighted, scantily clad female acrobats applaud: These painted figures hover on a billboard above a wall built of corrugated iron sheeting, across which are lettered the words GENTS URINAL. The scene is typical of Ram Rahman’s mostly black-and-white photographs, in which concatenations of representational codes—hand painted billboards and text, as in Gents Urinal, Delhi, 1991—mingle with banners, buildings, crowds, and resting figures so that perspective collapses. This maze of painted sign and intimate streetscape is not hard to find in New Delhi, but it is becoming atypical with the onslaught of development and the boom in construction. Rahman is the Atget of 1980s and ’90s New Delhi, capturing a city in transformation.

In the early photographs, India’s political hub seems to be submerged under handpainted walls, billboards, placards,

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