Dayanita Singh

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Dayanita Singh
Dayanita singh book museum 12.JPG
Dayanita Singh at National Museum, New Delhi, 2014
Born 1961 (age 56–57) [1]
New Delhi
Residence New Delhi
Nationality Indian
Occupation Contemporary Artist, Photographer
Style Documentary, Portrait

Dayanita Singh is a photographer whose primary format is the book. She studied Visual Communication at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad and Documentary Photography at the International Center of Photography in New York City. She has published twelve books.[2]

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. 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 people relate to photographic images.[3][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.[4][5]

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).[6][third-party source needed]

Singh was awarded the Prince Claus Award in 2008.[7] In 2013, she became the first Indian to have a solo show at London's Hayward Gallery.[8]

Early life and background[edit]

Born in Delhi, in 1961, 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]


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.[9][1]

"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.[10][third-party source needed][11]

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

In the years following this, Singh has collaborated with the publisher Gerhard Steidl in Goettingen, Germany to make a number of books, including Privacy, Chairs, the direction-changing Go Away Closer, the seven-volume Sent a Letter, Blue Book, Dream Villa, Fileroom and Museum of Chance.[12] Sent a Letter was included in the 2011 Phaidon Press book Defining Contemporary Art: 25 years in 200 Pivotal Artworks (ISBN 9780714862095).[13] Steidl said in a 2013 interview on Deutsche Welle television, "She is the genius of book making".[14] 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.[15]

Singh's works have been presented in exhibitions throughout the world, most notably at the Hayward Gallery in London in 2013 [16] and 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]

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[21]
  • 2004 Privacy, Rencontres-Arles, Arles[18]
  • 2005 Chairs, Studio Guenzani, Milan
  • 2005 Chairs, Frith Street Gallery, London
  • 2005 Chairs, Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, Boston[22]
  • 2006 Go Away Closer, Nature Morte, New Delhi[23]
  • 2006 Beds and Chairs, Valentina Bonomo gallery, Rome[18]
  • 2007 Beds and Chairs, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai
  • 2007 Go Away Closer, Gallerie Steinruecke Mirchandani, Mumbai[23]
  • 2007 Go Away Closer, Kriti gallery, Varanasi[23]
  • 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[24]
  • 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[25]
  • 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[26]
  • 2012 House of Love, Nature Morte, New Delhi[15]
  • 2012 Monuments of Knowledge, Photographs by Dayanita Singh, King's College London[27]
  • 2012 Dayanita Singh / The Adventures of a Photographer, Bildmuseet, Umea University, Sweden
  • 2012 Dayanita Singh: File Room, Frith Street Gallery, London[28]
  • 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 [29]
  • 2014 Dayanita Singh a solo exhibition at the Art Institute, Chicago [30][third-party source needed]
  • 2014 Museum of Chance: A Book Story, Goethe-Institut, Mumbai [31]
  • 2015 Dayanita Singh: Book works, Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi [32]
  • 2015-16 Conversation Chambers Museum Bhavan, a solo exhibition at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi [30][third-party source needed]
  • 2016 Museum of Chance Book Object, a solo exhibition at the Hawa Mahal, Jaipur[30][third-party source needed]

Group exhibitions[edit]

Kitchen Museum in the National Museum, New Delhi
  • 1995 So many worlds—Photographs from DU Magazine, Holderbank, Aargau, Switzerland[18]
  • 1997 India—A Contemporary View, Asian Arts Museum, San Francisco
  • 1997 Out of India, Contemporary Art of the South Asian Diaspora, Queens Museum of Art, New York
  • 1997 India—A Celebration of Independence,1947–1997, Museum of Fine Arts, Philadelphia
  • 1998 La Filature, Mulhouse, France
  • 1998 Another India, Crealdé School of Art, Orlando, Florida
  • 1999 Worlds of Work – Images of the South, Musée d'ethnographie, Geneva
  • 1999 Inferno and Paradiso, BildMuseet Umeå, Sweden
  • 1999 Another Girl, Another Planet, Greenberg Gallery, New York
  • 2000 Century City, Tate Modern, London[33]
  • 2002 Photo Sphere, Nature Morte, New Delhi[18]
  • 2002 Banaras: The Luminous City, Asia Society, New York
  • 2002 Bollywood – Das indische Kino und die Schweiz, Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich
  • 2002 Kapital und Karma. Aktuelle Positionen indischer Kunst, Kunsthalle, Wien
  • 2002 Red Light, Australian Center for Photography, Sydney
  • 2003 The Family, Windsor Gallery, Florida
  • 2003 Architektur der Obdachlosigkeit, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
  • 2004 Edge of Desire, art gallery of Western Australia, Perth
  • 2004 Ten Commandments, Stiftung Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden
  • 2005 Edge of Desire, Asia Society, New York[22]
  • 2005 Presence, Sepia International, New York[22]
  • 2006 Cities in Transition, NYC, Boston Hartford[18]
  • 2006 The Eighth Square, Ludwig Museum, Cologne
  • 2006 Sub-Contingent, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin
  • 2007 Private/Corporate, Sammlung Daimler Chrysler, Berlin
  • 2011 Paris-Delhi-Bombay, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
  • 2013 Biennale di Venezia, German Pavilion.[19]
  • 2014 City Dwellers: Contemporary Art From India, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle
  • 2014 Reading Cinema, Finding Words: Art After Marcel Broodthaers, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
  • 2014 Reading Cinema, Finding Words: Art After Marcel Broodthaers, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
  • 2014 Silver, Frith Street Gallery, London
  • 2014 Whorled Explorations: Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, Kochi
  • 2015 After Midnight: Indian Modernism to Contemporary India 1947/1997, Queens Museum, New York
  • 2015 Constructs/Constructions, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi
  • 2016 Museum of Chance Book Object, a solo project at the Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh[30][third-party source needed]
  • 2016 Suitcase Museum and Kitchen Museum at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia for the 20th Biennale of Sydney[30][third-party source needed]


  1. ^ a b c d Malone, Theresa (10 October 2013). "Dayanita Singh's best photograph – a sulking schoolgirl". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 
  2. ^ "About Dayanita Singh". 
  3. ^ "About – Dayanita Singh". Retrieved 2017-03-16. 
  4. ^ "Bio | Dayanita Singh | Frith Street Gallery". Retrieved 2017-03-16. 
  5. ^ "Dayanita Singh | The Art Institute of Chicago". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2017-03-16. 
  6. ^ "About Dayanita Singh". 
  7. ^ "Dayanita Singh". Prince Claus Fund. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 
  8. ^ "Dayanita Singh dazzles at London's Hayward Gallery". The Times of India. 
  9. ^ "Infinite Possibilities". Financial Times. 
  10. ^ "Myself Mona Ahmed". 
  11. ^ "Its Her Story". The Hindu. 
  12. ^ Sen, Aveek (16 October 2008). "The Eye in Thought – The very rich hours of Dayanita Singh". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  13. ^ "Defining contemporary art: 25 years in 200 pivotal artworks". Catalogue. University of Technology, Sydney. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  14. ^ "Die Fotografin Dayanita Singh" (in German). Deutsche Welle. 2 October 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  15. ^ a b "An insomniac's guide to photography". Mint. 2 December 2011. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  16. ^ "How Close is Closer: The Work of Dayanita Singh". Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  17. ^ "Arts 21 Series: CrossCurrents". Arts.21. 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. ^ Gayatri Sinha (30 November 2003). "Documentation of life". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c Holland Cotter (30 March 2005). "Objects of Repose and Remembrance". New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ "Dayanita Singh: Dream Villa". Frith Street Gallery. 2008. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  25. ^ "Dayanita Singh – Exhibitions". Museum Huis Voor Fotografie. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  26. ^ "The Always Exceptional Condition of Images". Art-iT. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  27. ^ ""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. 
  28. ^ "Bio: Dayanita Singh". Frith Street Gallery. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  29. ^ "Dayanita Singh e-flux". Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  30. ^ a b c d e "About - Dayanita Singh". Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  31. ^ "Mumbai - Event Calendar". Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  32. ^ "New Delhi - Event Calendar". Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  33. ^ "Postcards from the Edge". Time. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 

External links[edit]