Dayanita Singh

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Dayanita Singh
Dayanita singh book museum 12.JPG
Born1961 (age 59–60)[1]
New Delhi
OccupationContemporary Artist, Photographer
StyleDocumentary, Portrait

Dayanita Singh (born 1961)[1] is a photographer whose primary format is the book. She has published twelve books.

Singh's art reflects and expands on the ways in which people relate to photographic images. Her recent works, drawn from her extensive photographic oeuvre, are a series of mobile museums that allow her images to be endlessly edited, sequenced, archived and displayed. Stemming from her interest in the archive, the museums present her photographs as interconnected bodies of work that are full of both poetic and narrative possibilities.

Publishing is also a significant part of Singh's practice. She has created multiple "book-objects" – works that are concurrently books, art objects, exhibitions, and catalogues – often with the publisher Steidl. Museum Bhavan has been shown at the Hayward Gallery, London (2013), the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2014), the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (2014) and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (2016).

Singh was awarded the Prince Claus Award in 2008.[2]

Early life and background[edit]

Singh was born in Delhi in 1961. She was the oldest of four sisters.[3]

Singh studied Visual Communication at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad and later Documentary Photography at the International Center of Photography in New York City.[1][3] She started her career in photojournalism and retired in the late 1990s.[4]


Singh's first foray into photography and bookmaking came through a chance encounter with tabla player Zakir Hussain, when he invited her to photograph him in rehearsal after she was shoved by an aggressive official while attempting to shoot him in concert. For six winters following this, Singh documented several Hussain tours and, in 1986, finally published the images in her first book, Zakir Hussain. Referring to him as her first "true guru", Singh believes that Hussain taught her the most important of all skills: focus.[1][5]

"Read, read, read. Forget studying photography – just go and study literature. Then you will bring something to the photography."

— Dayanita Singh, The Guardian, 2014[1]

Singh's second book, Myself Mona Ahmed was published in 2001, after more than a decade spent on assignment as a photojournalist. A mix of photobook, biography, autobiography and fiction, this 'visual novel' emerged as a result of her refusal to be the subject of what could have been a routine but problematic photojournalistic project as well as her discomfort with the West's tendency to view India through simplistic, exotic lenses.[6][third-party source needed][7]

Dayanita Singh in the National Museum, New Delhi, 2014.

In the years following this, publishing has been a significant part of Singh's practice. She has created multiple "book-objects" – works that are concurrently books, art objects, exhibitions, and catalogues—often in collaboration with the publisher Gerhard Steidl in Göttingen, Germany. These include Privacy, Chairs, the direction-changing Go Away Closer, the seven-volume Sent a Letter, Blue Book, Dream Villa, Fileroom and Museum of Chance.[8] Sent a Letter was included in the 2011 Phaidon Press book Defining Contemporary Art: 25 years in 200 Pivotal Artworks.[9] Steidl said in a 2013 interview on Deutsche Welle television, "She is the genius of book making".[10] Dream Villa was produced during her Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography given annually by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University; Singh was its second recipient in 2008.[11]

The "book-object" medium has allowed Singh to explore her interest in the poetic and narrative possibility of sequence and re-sequence, allowing her to create photographic patterns while simultaneously disrupting them. Her books rarely include text; instead she lets the photographs communicate and speak for themselves. These ideas are furthered through her experimentation with alternate ways of producing and viewing photographs to explore how people relate to photographic images.[12][third-party source needed]

Singh has created and displayed a series of mobile museums, giving her the space to constantly sequence, edit, and archive her images. These mobile museums stemmed in large part from Singh's interest in archives and the archival process. Her mobile museums are displayed in large wooden architectural structures that can be rearranged and opened or closed in various ways. Each holds 70 to 140 photographs that Singh rearranges for each show so that only a portion of the photos or parts of each images are visible at any given time, capitalizing on the interconnected and fluid capacity of her work while allowing ample opportunity for evolving narratives and interpretations.[13][14]

Museum Bhavan has been shown at the Hayward Gallery, London (2013),[15] the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2014), the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (2014)[14] and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (2016).[16]

Singh's works have also been presented at the German pavilion in the Venice Biennale.[17] In 2009, the Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid organised a retrospective of her work, which subsequently travelled to Amsterdam, Bogota and Umea.[18] Her pictures of "File Rooms" were first presented in the exhibition, Illuminazione, at the 2011 Venice Biennale.[19]

In 2014, at the National Museum, New Delhi, Singh built the Book Museum using her publications File Room and Privacy as well as her mother's book, Nony Singh: The Archivist. And she also displayed a part of Kitchen Museum which are accordion-fold books with silver gelatin prints in 8 teak vitrines that she makes as letters to fellow travellers or conservationists since 2000. Seven of these were published by Steidl as "Sent a Letter".

Singh also presented the Museum of Chance as a book-object for the first time in India in November 2014 at a show in the Goethe-Institut in Mumbai and in January 2015 at a show in the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan in New Delhi. The book-object is a work that is a book, an art object, an exhibition and a catalogue, all at once. In order to move away from showing editioned prints framed on the wall, Singh made the book itself the art object: a work to be valued, looked at and read as such, rather than being regarded as a gathering of photographic reproductions.[20]

In 2018 Singh released Museum Bhavan as a book. It is an "exhibition" in the form of a book, with "galleries" held in a small box containing nine thin accordion books that expand to a 7.5-foot-long gallery of black and white photos drawn from Singh's archive. In 2017 Museum Bhavan won PhotoBook of the Year in the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards and in 2018 was awarded the Infinity Award of the International Center of Photography.[21][22]

Solo exhibitions[edit]

Book Museum in the National Museum, New Delhi
  • 1997 Images from the 90s, Scalo Galerie, Zurich[18]
  • 1998 Family Portraits, Nature Morte, New Delhi
  • 1999 Family Portraits, Studio Guenzani, Milan
  • 1999 Mona Darling, Venezia Immagine, Venice
  • 2000 Dayanita Singh, Tempo Festival, Stockholm
  • 2000 Dayanita Singh, Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels
  • 2000 I am as I am, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
  • 2000 Demello Vado, Saligao Institute, Goa
  • 2001 Empty Spaces, Frith Street Gallery, London
  • 2002 Bombay to Goa, Art House India, Goa
  • 2002 Bombay to Goa, Kalaghoda Festival, Bombay
  • 2002 Parsees at Home, Gallery Chemould, Bombay
  • 2002 I am as I am, Myself Mona Ahmed, Scalo Galerie, Zurich
  • 2003 Dayanita Singh: Image/Text (Photographs 1989–2002), Department of Art and Aesthetics. Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • 2003 Myself Mona Ahmed, Museum of Asian Art, Berlin
  • 2003 Dayanita Singh: Privacy, Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin[23]
  • 2004 Privacy, Rencontres-Arles, Arles[18]
  • 2005 Chairs, Studio Guenzani, Milan
  • 2005 Chairs, Frith Street Gallery, London
  • 2005 Chairs, Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, Boston[24]
  • 2006 Go Away Closer, Nature Morte, New Delhi[25]
  • 2006 Beds and Chairs, Valentina Bonomo gallery, Rome[18]
  • 2007 Beds and Chairs, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai
  • 2007 Go Away Closer, Gallerie Steinruecke Mirchandani, Mumbai[25]
  • 2007 Go Away Closer, Kriti gallery, Varanasi[25]
  • 2008 Ladies of Calcutta, Bose Pacia Gallery, Calcutta[18]
  • 2008 Sent a Letter, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai
  • 2008 Sent a Letter, Alliance Francaise, New Delhi
  • 2008 Dream Villa, Frith Street Gallery, London[26]
  • 2008 Let You Go, Nature Morte, Berlin[18]
  • 2008 Les Rencontres d'Arles festival, France
  • 2009 Blue Book, Galerie Mirchandani Steinruecke, Bombay
  • 2009 Blue Book, Nature Morte, New Delhi
  • 2010 Dayanita Singh (Photographs 1989 – 2010), Huis Marseille, Amsterdam, Netherlands[27]
  • 2010 Dream Villa, Nature Morte, New Delhi[18]
  • 2010 Dayanita Singh, Mapfre Foundation, Madrid
  • 2011 Dayanita Singh, Museum of Art, Bogota
  • 2011 House of Love, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge
  • 2011 Adventures of a Photographer, Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo[28]
  • 2012 House of Love, Nature Morte, New Delhi[11]
  • 2012 Monuments of Knowledge, Photographs by Dayanita Singh, King's College London[29]
  • 2012 Dayanita Singh / The Adventures of a Photographer, Bildmuseet, Umea University, Sweden
  • 2012 Dayanita Singh: File Room, Frith Street Gallery, London[30]
  • 2013 Go Away Closer, Hayward Gallery, London[19]
  • 2014 Building the Book Museum: photography, language, form National Museum, New Delhi
  • 2014 Go Away Closer, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt[31]
  • 2014 Dayanita Singh a solo exhibition at the Art Institute, Chicago[14]
  • 2014 Museum of Chance: A Book Story, Goethe-Institut, Mumbai[32]
  • 2015 Dayanita Singh: Book works, Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi[33]
  • 2015–2016 Conversation Chambers Museum Bhavan, a solo exhibition at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi[16]
  • 2016 Museum of Chance Book Object, a solo exhibition at the Hawa Mahal, Jaipur[34][third-party source needed]
  • 2016 Museum of Chance Book Object, a solo project at the Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh[34]
  • 2017 Dayanita Singh: Museum Bhavan, a solo exhibition at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Tokyo[4]
  • 2018 Dayanita Singh: Pop-Up Bookshop/My Offset World, Callicoon Fine Arts, New York, NY[35]

Group exhibitions[edit]

Kitchen Museum in the National Museum, New Delhi
  • 1995 So many worlds—Photographs from DU Magazine, Holderbank, Aargau, Switzerland[18]
  • 2000 Century City, Tate Modern, London[36]
  • 2002 Photo Sphere, Nature Morte, New Delhi[18]
  • 2005 Edge of Desire, Asia Society, New York[24]
  • 2005 Presence, Sepia International, New York[24]
  • 2006 Cities in Transition, NYC, Boston Hartford[18]
  • 2013 Biennale di Venezia, German Pavilion[19]
  • 2016 20th Biennale of Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia[37]


  1. ^ a b c d e Malone, Theresa (10 October 2013). "Dayanita Singh's best photograph – a sulking schoolgirl". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  2. ^ "Dayanita Singh". Prince Claus Fund. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  3. ^ a b Singh, Dayanita (2003). Privacy. Schmitz, Britta, 1963–, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin—Preussischer Kulturbesitz. (First ed.). [Berlin]. ISBN 3882439629. OCLC 53708947.
  4. ^ a b "Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan". TOP Museum. 9 March 2019.
  5. ^ "Infinite Possibilities". Financial Times.
  6. ^ "Myself Mona Ahmed". Archived from the original on 24 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  7. ^ "It's Her Story". The Hindu.
  8. ^ Sen, Aveek (16 October 2008). "The Eye in Thought – The very rich hours of Dayanita Singh". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  9. ^ "Defining contemporary art: 25 years in 200 pivotal artworks". Catalogue. University of Technology, Sydney. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Die Fotografin Dayanita Singh" (in German). Deutsche Welle. 2 October 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  11. ^ a b "An insomniac's guide to photography". Mint. 2 December 2011. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  12. ^ "About – Dayanita Singh". Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  13. ^ "Bio | Dayanita Singh | Frith Street Gallery". Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  14. ^ a b c "Dayanita Singh | The Art Institute of Chicago". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  15. ^ "How Close is Closer: The Work of Dayanita Singh". Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  16. ^ a b "Conversation Chambers". Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  17. ^ "Arts 21 Series: CrossCurrents". Arts.21. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Dayanita Singh – Artist CV". Nature Morte. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  19. ^ a b c "Infinite possibilities". Financial Times. 26 April 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  20. ^ "New Delhi – Event Calendar".
  21. ^ "This Photographer Wants To Put A Museum in Your Pocket". Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  22. ^ "2018 Infinity Award: Artist's Book — Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan (Steidl)". International Center of Photography. 8 February 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  23. ^ Gayatri Sinha (30 November 2003). "Documentation of life". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  24. ^ a b c Holland Cotter (30 March 2005). "Objects of Repose and Remembrance". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  25. ^ a b c Aveek Sen (11 January 2007). "A Distance of One's Own – Dayanita Singh's Go Away Closer". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  26. ^ "Dayanita Singh: Dream Villa". Frith Street Gallery. 2008. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  27. ^ "Dayanita Singh – Exhibitions". Museum Huis Voor Fotografie. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  28. ^ "The Always Exceptional Condition of Images". Art-iT. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  29. ^ ""I Don't Want to Be Bound by Anything": Dayanita Singh Brings Her Cerebral Art to London's Frith Street Gallery". Artinfo. 6 July 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  30. ^ "Bio: Dayanita Singh". Frith Street Gallery. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  31. ^ "Dayanita Singh e-flux". Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  32. ^ "Mumbai – Event Calendar". Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  33. ^ "New Delhi – Event Calendar". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  34. ^ a b "About – Dayanita Singh". Retrieved 5 August 2016.
  35. ^ "Dayanita Singh, Pop-up book shop". Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  36. ^ "Postcards from the Edge". Time. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  37. ^ "20th Biennale of Sydney". Retrieved 10 March 2019.

External links[edit]