Published by Steidl. Text by Simrat Dugal, Gerhard Steidl.
Is it a book, an exhibition, a catalog of the exhibition? Is it mass-produced? Is it unique? Dayanita Singh (born 1961) is a book artist who stretches the imagination of what a book can be, transcending the spaces between publishing and art. Book of Books traces the journeys of Singh’s books, from the first, Zakir Hussain (1986), to her latest, Zakir Hussain Maquette (2019), showing the spectrum of her book-building process from idea to material object, and how she inventively circulates them in the art world and beyond.
Taking those books she has made with Steidl as a basis, we witness the transformation of books into book-objects which open up new interpretative spaces: Museum of Chance (2014), for example, first became a book-object, then a diptych, a bookcase, a suitcase museum and a book museum, before finally becoming the ongoing museum in Singh’s Museum Bhavan (2017). Book of Books documents Singh’s 13 books in images and short texts, along with several DIYs Singh has created with detailed instructions on how to display her books as exhibitions—making us the curators—as well as various performative interventions, from book carts and happenings to installations and tours. At the heart of Book of Books is the collaborative process that Dayanita Singh and Gerhard Steidl have established over 20 years: the belief that a book is always in a process of becoming.
I wanted to suggest a conversation among these chairs, which have always seemed to me more like people than objects, with distinct personalities and genders even." With this sentiment in mind, Dayanita Singh (born 1961) went about photographing the many chairs living throughout the houses and public buildings designed by Geoffrey Bawa, whom Singh deems a "tropical modernist" and the most influential architect of the South Asian region.
Less still lifes than portraits, Singh's images show how Bawa's spaces engage with the chairs, be they designed or collected by Bawa, or installed after his passing. Made to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Bawa's birth, Bawa Chairs is constructed as an accordion-fold booklet in the manner of Singh's Chairs (2005), Sent a Letter (2007) and Museum Bhavan (2017), and intended to be unfolded and installed at will—transforming the book into an exhibition, and the reader into a curator.
Published by Hatje Cantz. Edited with text by Stephanie Rosenthal. Text by Teju Cole, Kajri Jain, Ahona Palchoudhuri, Thomas Weski, Christophe Gallois, Ana Mendes, Claire Molloy.
The internationally acclaimed photographer Dayanita Singh often describes herself as a “book artist.” Accordingly, Singh was closely involved in the making of this magnificent exhibition catalog, which accompanies a major touring retrospective of Singh’s work, curated by Stephanie Rosenthal for the Gropius Bau. The most comprehensive publication yet published on Singh’s photographic art, it includes a series of long-form and short-form scholarly essays, full-color reproductions and installation images. The texts situate Singh’s work in relation to topics such as Indian classical music, photographic lineages and traditions, conceptions of the archive, choreography and the economies of reproduction. Presenting every important phase in the photographer’s oeuvre, Dancing with the Camera also enters Singh’s archive to include never-before-seen early works from the 1980s, a new series of montages and the works Let’s See, Museum of Chance, Museum of Shedding, I Am as I Am, Go Away Closer and Box 507, among others. Dayanita Singh (born 1961) is one of today’s most important photographers. Her solo exhibitions have been held at MMK, Frankfurt; Hayward Gallery, London; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; and the Art Institute of Chicago.
A return to a time when Dayanita Singh (born 1961) did not yet consider herself a photographer, Let’s See is the probing remembrance of “an eye I no longer have access to.” Singh has recently poured through 40 years of her archive—80% of which remains unseen—exploring scans of her contact sheets and being amazed by the gentle and tender images from the 1980s and ’90s she had since forgotten—hostel roommates, friends with whom she lived, family, weddings, funerals; portraits of herself and those who would become important characters in her life: her mother, Nony Singh, the musician, Zakir Hussain, and Mona Ahmed, whom she depicted in the emotive visual biography Myself Mona Ahmed (2001). Singh’s first camera, a Pentax ME Super with a 50 mm lens, was a gift from the German publisher Ernst Battenberg, and with it she “made photos of everything I could, trying to make a roll of film last as long as possible,” creating contact sheets of all her images, but realizing the rare luxury of an individual print only for a publication or a book project. “I call this book Let’s See,” says Singh, “because these images are about exactly that: how we see, what we don’t see, what only the camera sees….”
In the early 1980s, with her very first camera in hand, Dayanita Singh (born 1961) traveled throughout India for six winters with the tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, photographing several great classical musicians and creating an image archive of them on stage and backstage, in their homes and on the bus transporting them from concert to concert. When the time came for Singh to edit her work into a book, she chose to focus on the tanpura—a long-necked, four-stringed drone instrument that both evokes and supports the musician’s voice, both during performance and the process of daily practice of riyaz. Museum of Tanpura celebrates the tanpura as a musician’s constant companion, the environments and relationships which bring music into being, and embodies what Singh sees as her greatest lesson from the performers she befriended—the rigor and aesthetics of riyaz.
Ever since Museum of Chance (2015), and particularly in her award-winning Museum Bhavan (2017), Dayanita Singh (born 1961) has created museums in book form—little offset symphonies that create a fluid space between the museum/gallery and publishing. Now, in Museum of Dance, Singh collects all the images of people dancing that she made in the 1980s and ’90s—from her mother, Nony Singh, her friend and collaborator Mona Ahmed (subject of Singh’s 2001 visual novel Myself Mona Ahmed), to classical dancers and the renowned Bollywood choreographer Masterji. Published to coincide with her traveling retrospective Dancing with the Camera, this book is Singh’s tribute to dance, as well as her exploration of photography and bookmaking as metaphorical forms of dance—where rehearsed and spontaneous rhythms combine through intuition in unpredictable ways.
The archive has long been an obsession for Dayanita Singh (born 1961)—both literal archives, treasuries of objects chosen with care and preserved against time, and the photobook as a moveable archive which the viewer can revisit and display at will. In Pothi Khana (Hindi for “archive room”), Singh presents photographs of India’s seemingly endless private and public archives: shelf after shelf of bundles wrapped and knotted in pieces of cloth once colorful but now almost white with age. The documents within these bundles remain known only to the archivists who are curiously absent in Singh's images, their presence implied from the spaces they normally inhabit: chairs, desks, doorways, halls. Originally exhibited in 2018 at the 57th Carnegie International as a group of modular, pillarlike wooden structures whose photographs could be endlessly resequenced, Singh now transforms the mobile sensibility of Pothi Khana into this volume, which she sees as a compendium to 2013’s File Room.
After many years spent documenting poverty in her homeland, Dayanita Singh (born 1961) began to ask herself: what can a photographer in India document that is neither catastrophic nor “the exotic”? Her answer was to portray the flipside—India’s well-to-do families and their fine homes. Both on commission and on her own, she created a portrait of another side of Indian society—one from which she hails—complete with its traditional and postcolonial symbols of wealth. India’s wealthy elite is virtually unknown to the West. First published in 2004, Privacy depicts a closed world characterized by tight family solidarity. Singh shows the people as they would like to see themselves, in the middle of splendidly decorated rooms and surrounded by possessions. At a certain point in her work, Singh realized that even without their residents, the rooms were occupied by the invisible generations that had lived there before. Accordingly, the book closes with photographs of empty interiors.
The book is well known as Dayanita Singh’s (born 1961) primary medium, one she explores to create new relationships between photography, publishing, the exhibition and the museum. But where did her passion for the book as the ideal vessel for her photos, for the stories she tells, begin? The answer lies in Zakir Hussain, a handmade maquette Singh crafted in 1986 as her first project as a graphic design student. The protagonist of Singh’s photo essay is the Indian classical tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, whom she captured on the stage and at home with his family. Surrounding the photos are handwritten texts gleaned from interviews Singh made with her sitters, including insights from Hussain himself. This Steidl facsimile edition is scanned from Singh’s original maquette and reproduces all its “imperfections” and idiosyncrasies, including her pencilled notes about the book’s construction—indications of the influential book-maker to come. Shanay Jhaveri’s accompanying essay discusses how Singh intuitively assembled the book.
Published by Steidl. Interviews by Aveen Sen, Gerhard Steidl.
With Museum Bhavan, Dayanita Singh (born 1961) forges a new space between publishing and the museum, an experience where books have the same--if not greater--artistic value as prints hanging on a gallery wall. Consisting of 10 individual “museums” in book form, Museum Bhavan is a miniature version of Singh’s eponymous traveling exhibition, with prints placed in folding expanding wooden structures. The images in Museum Bhavan have been intuitively grouped into lyrical chapters in a visual story such as “Little Ladies Museum” and “Ongoing Museum,” as well as more specific series such as “Museum of Machines.” As in Singh’s first project, Sent a Letter (2008), the books are housed in a handmade box and fold out into accordion-like strips which the artist encourages viewers to install and curate as they wish in their own homes. The exhibition thus becomes a book, and the book an exhibition.
Dayanita Singh's Museum of Chance is a book about how life unfolds, and asks to be recorded and edited, along and off the axis of time. The inscrutably woven photographic sequence of Singh's Go Away Closer has now grown into a labyrinth of connections and correspondences. The thread through this novel-like web of happenings is that elusive entity called Chance. It is Chance that seems to disperse as well as gather fragments or clusters of experience, creating a form of simultaneity that is realized in the idea and matter of the book, with its interlaced or parallel timelines and patterns of recurrence and return. The 88 quadratone images in the book will also appear on the front and back covers in random pairs, transforming each copy of the book into a distinct piece of work by the author.
Published by Hayward Gallery Publishing. Foreword by Ralph Rugoff. Text by Geoff Dyer. Interview by Stephanie Rosenthal.
Originally trained as a photojournalist and bookmaker, Dayanita Singh (born 1961) has exhibited widely both in India and abroad. Her work often takes a curious view of the everyday, and is characterized by an unsparing view of her subject matter. Best known for her portraits of India’s urban middle and upper classes, her images of people working, celebrating or resting depict everyday life without embellishment, capturing insights that often challenge exotic stereotypes in the West. Published alongside an exhibition at Hayward Gallery, Dayanita Singh: Go Away Closer<\!s>marks a turning point in the career of this artist. For the first time in print, this publication presents a detailed overview of Singh’s Museums--wooden structures that introduce a radical new way of experiencing Singh’s work and photography in general. The book includes images from throughout Singh’s career, a new essay from Geoff Dyer and an in-depth interview with Singh by Hayward Chief Curator, Stephanie Rosenthal.
Dayanita Singh's photos of archives and their custodians across India examine how memory is made and how history is narrated. These images bring to light the paradox of archives: they are impersonal in their classifications, yet each is the careful handiwork of an individual archivist, an unsung keeper of history whose decisions generate the sources of much of our knowledge. Archives are vessels of orthodox fact but can also be the home of neglected details and forgotten documents than can unfix the status quo. As the pace of change in contemporary India accelerates and Indians turn from the past and fix their gaze on the future, what will become of the archive? Singh prompts us to imagine archives as not merely documents of dusty scholarship but as monuments of knowledge, beautiful in their unkempt order.
Dayanita Singh’s House of Love is a work of photographic fiction that takes the form of 13 short stories. The “House of Love” itself is the Taj Mahal, but the Taj Mahal as a recurring motif that stands for a range of meanings--meanings made up of the truths and lies of night and day, love and illusion, attachment and detachment, humor and treachery, friendship and desolation. Through images of cities both visible and invisible, people real and surreal, Singh creates her own mysterious and ineffable, strange yet familiar language, using her trademark black-and-white photography and her newer investigations of nocturnal color. Working closely with writer Aveek Sen, whose prose pursues its own parallel journey, Singh explores the relationship between photography and writing. House of Love is a book whose images demand to be read, not just seen, and whose texts likewise create their own sensory worlds.
Known for her photographs of lesser-known elements of Indian society, artist Dayanita Singh makes images that might depict anything from the life of a Delhi eunuch to those of upper-middle-class families. Her books, often published without text, allow her to experiment with different styles of sequencing and composing such photographs. In Dream Villa, Singh explores the ways in which the night transforms what seems ordinary by day into something disquieting and enigmatic; the series of color photographs illustrated in this book presents a landscape that exists as much in the artist's imagination as it does in the real world. In search of these mysterious nocturnal effects, Singh travels to many cities across India, never knowing where her “Dream Villa” or its shadowy inhabitants will present themselves.