Within the intricate tapestry of India’s history, one finds the compelling narrative of the Parsis, a community whose origins trace back to Persia, or modern-day Iran. The community traces its history in the region to the 8th century when seeking refuge from religious persecution, they embarked on an arduous journey to India’s western shores. Despite their modest numbers, both in the past and present, the Parsis have built an enduring legacy, celebrated for their significant contributions to diverse facets of Indian society and their profound cultural imprint on the nation.
Article by by Vahishtai Ghosh |Artshelp
An old Parsi couple in a Gujarati town. Photo by Porus Vimadalal.
While their legacy in India is indeed illustrious, the Parsis are also celebrated for their idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, or unique quirks which they wear with pride. Amongst these, it was a particular element of Parsiness that caught the eye of the dynamic photographer-stylist duo and couple, Porus Vimadalal and Prayag Menon — their noses. It is this particular and peculiar physical feature that takes center stage in the pair’s photographic endeavour — The Parsi Nose Project — a creative venture that serves as an ode to a delightful source of playful recognition and endearment within the Parsi community.
Hoshang Karkaria, an older community member for The Parsi Nose Project. Photo by Porus Vimadalal.
At first glance, The Parsi Nose Project may seem rather enigmatic to people outside the community, but its origins, like its subject matter, are deeply quotidian. The project was born during a casual dinner conversation with friends over wine. Vimadalal, a Parsi himself, was fascinated by the idea of documenting a feature that drew so much attention to him as well as his Parsi friends. “It was meant to be a very personal project, something I just wanted to do. I thought it was a great idea, because nobody really thinks about it too much. We all joke about the Parsi nose. You know if you’re a Parsi growing up, you’ve probably heard jokes about it. People going ‘are you Parsi by any chance?’, when they see your nose. It’s something that I wanted to capture.”
In their playful celebration of the Parsis and their vibrant culture, Vimadalal and Menon inadvertently shine a spotlight on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, which champions inclusive societies. As a dwindling minority, the Parsi community’s portrayal in the project serves as more than just a cultural record; it is a significant stride towards raising awareness about their unique heritage, their contemporary challenges, and ultimately, honoring their enduring legacy.
The duo began by documenting a few people they knew, but the project gained significant momentum when Vimadalal shared an Instagram story calling for Parsis above the age of 18 to participate. “I received over a hundred messages in a day after people shared the story”, said Vimadalal. “Even those who don’t follow me reached out, saying they heard about the project through friends. The response exceeded my expectations.”
Delraaz Bunshah for The Parsi Nose Project. Photo by Porus Vimadalal.
Vimadalal’s creative process for the project involved a dialogue about its intentions, as well the overall composition of the portraits he and his partner were setting out to capture. “The images weren’t just meant to convey humor, but rather a portrait open to interpretation. They capture both humor and emotion, with the focus solely on the face. My idea was to photograph people as they are, emphasizing the essence of the face and how the nose seamlessly belongs within it, rather than standing out. Initially, we debated whether to photograph just the nose or the entire face, and we decided it should indeed be the whole face.”
It was perhaps this creative decision that imbued a sense of closeness and relatability into Vimadalal’s images. The project went on to receive a positive response from both the Parsi community and the wider public, with coverage in newspapers, a radio show, and even Vogue India. This attention sparked conversations about diversity, representation in art, and cultural appreciation. It also transformed into a platform for people to confront insecurities about their noses and embrace their unique features, also fostering a space that encouraged affirmative conversations around them.
According to Vimadalal, “it opened up conversations about beauty in general, and people started seeing themselves differently after viewing their portraits. For many subjects, it positively transformed their relationship, with themselves. Especially considering the beauty standards prevalent in today’s media-saturated world. It was very grounding, even for me personally.”
Farshogar Vazifdar for The Parsi Nose Project. Photo by Porus Vimadalal.
While this project is rooted in the exploration of a seemingly mundane physical characteristic, its visuals are captivating. Vimadalal employs his keen photographic skills to capture the Parsi nose in all its glory. Through careful composition and lighting, his black and white portraits highlight the intricate contours and individuality of each nose, reminding their audience that even the most innocuous aspects of human existence carry profound stories. What sets The Parsi Nose Project apart is its ability to transcend depictions of the nose from the realm of mere aesthetics. Each photograph captures the individuality of their subjects, whilst simultaneously breathing life into the historical and cultural narratives of the Parsi community
The Parsi Nose Project, conceived and executed by Porus Vimadalal and Prayag Menon, is a remarkable artistic journey that redefines the boundaries of cultural expression. Through the lens of photography, it not only captures the very material physicality of the Parsi nose, but also immortalizes the conceptually rich narratives of a community that has played a vital role in shaping the cultural tapestry of India. This project reminds us that art, in its myriad forms, has the power to connect us with our roots, our history, and our shared humanity. It is a testament to the way in which art can capture the soul of a community.
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Vahishtai, a Mumbai native, holds an MPhil in Transnational, Global & Spatial History from St. Andrews, Scotland. They’re passionate about the arts’ potential to drive social change and commentary.