The Photography of Pranlal Patel

Exhibit Organized by UC Davis Alumna Throws Light on Working Women in Early 20th-Century India

women seated on floor, tying fibers together to create brooms

Women making brooms by Pranlal K. Patel

February 2017 - A photo exhibition organized by UC Davis graduate Lisa Trivedi and sponsored by the Middle East/South Asia Studies (ME/SA) Program at UC Davis focuses on the lives of working women in India during the 1930s.

Refocusing the Lens, at the Sacramento City Hall Art Gallery Feb. 7 – March 31, is made up of images by the pioneering photographer Pranlal K. Patel.

Patel’s candid photos shot in Ahmedabad, a city in northwest India, were unusual at the time in India. They provide insight into the lives of working-class women in their homes, neighborhoods and markets, illuminating the range of women’s work, a changing, industrializing India, and the role of caste and community in work. Patel was commissioned to take the photos by an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Indian women. 

four smiling people standing in front of photo exhibit

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg (J.D., ’84), UC Davis Professors Sudipta Sen (history) and Smriti Srinivas (anthropology), and Lisa Trivedi at the opening of her exhibition of Pranlal Patel's photos.

Trivedi, a history professor at Hamilton College in New York, earned a doctorate in history from UC Davis in 1999. She learned about Patel’s photos in 1996 while on a Fulbright Scholarship in India. In 2015 she organized the first U.S. exhibition by Patel, who died at 104 a few months before it opened. [Watch a video about Refocusing the Lens].

A Feb. 6 opening event for the Sacramento showing included a talk by Trivedi, along with remarks by Venkatesan Ashok, consul general of India in San Francisco, and Ermias Kebreab, UC Davis associate vice provost of global affairs.

Smriti Srinivas, director of ME/SA, says the exhibit "draws attention to the everyday spaces of Ahmadabad city and the significant role of women’s labor in it at a politically important phase of the Indian independence movement." It is part of the South Asian Without Borders Initiative of ME/SA.

The gallery, at 915 I St., Sacramento, is open weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist for the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, College of Letters and Science.