Keerthana Kunnath aims to help women in her hometown shed the “shackles of social expectation”
Focusing on the women and young girls in Beypore, India, the photographer's ongoing series Naadu grapples with limitations of small-town tradition.
- Olivia Hingley
- 27 April 2023
Reflecting on one’s personal experiences, especially those in childhood, can be a heady mix of emotions; enlightening, nostalgic and perhaps even difficult. This was the case for the photographer Keerthana Kunnath, whose pertinent photo series Naadu arose after she delved back into her life as a “vulnerable” girl growing up in Beypore, India – a time which the photographer now says exists as “an indelible part of my consciousness”.
As a whole, Naadu attempts to encapsulate the experiences of women in the “small-town milieu” and “the paradox of belonging yet feeling out of place”. Growing up, Keerthana recalls feeling a sense of “disconnect” between her “curiosity and the limited perspective that the town’s customs and duties imposed upon women”. At a young age, Keerthana identified tradition and the domestic expectations of daily life as two aspects that were holding back women, leaving her with a longing to “explore beyond the prescribed norms”.
From Beypore, Keerthana later moved to Delhi where she began working as a jewellery designer. Here, she started photographing the jewellery for display and found herself increasingly drawn to the medium. And so, in the midst of 2020, Keerthana started her photography journey and moved to London to pursue a masters in the art. “I discovered the profound impact photography had on me,” Keerthana says of her move to the UK. “It empowered me to delve into many issues I faced while growing up and try to find answers to unresolved personal issues that had lingered for years.”
Upon returning to Beypore – with photography as her new “investigative” tool – Keerthana was disheartened to find that many young girls were still “shackled by societal expectations”, just as she had been. Keerthana was thus compelled to create a body of work that not only draws attention to these issues, but also empowers the women of her hometown to “embrace their aspirations and break free from the constraints of societal norms”.
Approaching the series, Keerthana visually wanted to portray the “mundanity” of everyday life, while also showing prevailing gender roles. To ensure a level of authenticity, the photographer shot on film, spending long periods of time reconnecting with her surroundings. Moreover, financial limitations made the process more thoughtful: “I had to discipline myself to engage in the thought process of why I wanted to photograph a subject in a certain setting, rather than shooting a hundred frames to get a perfect shot.”
But when the first rolls of film were developed, Keerthana recalls feeling a sense of disappointment. Rather than letting this dissuade her from the project, Keerthana instead let herself explore new approaches. “This led me to an interesting process of revisiting the subjects, perhaps at a different time of day or in a more personal setting, to try and capture the images I envisioned.” For the photographer, this fact demonstrates the beauty of an ongoing project, and the ability to evolve and morph.
While the project does centre on difficult topics, many of the photos throughout focus on lighter moments. In fact, one of Keerthana's favourite images is one that reminds her of happy moments in her own childhood. In the image, two pre-teen children lie on a beach in a carefree manner, soaked by the incoming tide, the setting sun giving the whole scene a warm, tender glow. “It captures a moment in time for me and reminds me of my innocent childhood days in Beypore,” she reflects. “Going to the beach every weekend with my father is one of my fondest memories.”
Ultimately, Keerthana hopes the series is one that ignites conversation. “As I work closely with young girls, my hope is to sow seeds of thought about the potential opportunities that exist beyond their familiar surroundings,” she concludes. “I hope to inspire conversations about womanhood, mental health, sexuality, societal norms and self-expression, and encourage everyone to participate in these important dialogues.”
Keerthana will be delving into her series Naduu at May's Nicer Tuesdays. More info and tickets can be found here.
GalleryKeerthana Kunnath: Naadu (Copyright © Keerthana Kunnath, 2023)
Keerthana Kunnath: Naadu (Copyright © Keerthana Kunnath, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.