THE VIEW FINDER
After being the first Indian to do a solo show of her photographs at London’s prestigious Hayward Gallery, DAYANITA SINGH is now set for an eponymous exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago this month. Three top curators talk about how Singh has heralded the dawn of the photo-artist in India.
TaSneem mehTa Director, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai
I have known Dayanita for over 10 years, from when she first started out. She is not just a photographer; Dayanita is an artist. That’s the fundamental thing about her. She has transformed photography from being just a documentary to an art form, an art form that is not restricted to the medium, but is using the medium to put out a much larger message. Her work goes beyond photography, even beyond installation. It is a combination of photography and form. She is constantly innovating and changing the format of the way she does things, and that is what marks her out as different from everybody else who’s working in the field. Her desire to communicate with t he audience i s quite different— she is doing things to try to reach people and tell a story in a way that is very individual.
Dayanita has explored Dr. Bhau Daji Lad museum as an archive, which she has photographed, and she has had images from the museum in several of her exhibitions. She has also worked with very critical themes, like the transgender issue. We are planning to do a major show with her soon.
I like all her works, but in particular, I enjoyed the intervention that she did at the India Art Fair, which is a part of her Hayward Gallery show (2013), where she has created display cases out of photographs and she changes the form of display. She has created her own museum, and has gone back to the original idea of what display was. She has made them different, contemporarised them. Photographs and museums are forms of archives, and she is bringing the two together in this project. Being a museum person myself, I would say it’s my favourite one!
Shireen Gandhy Director, Chemould-Prescott Road gallery, Mumbai
I have known Dayanita for a very long time now. I do not remember exactly when I saw her work—perhaps it was during one of the Kala Ghoda Festivals in Mumbai when she did a pop-up show of her Goa photographs at the Max Mueller Bhavanat Rampart Row. Subsequently, when my mother was planning a very ambitious exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai, called Portrait of a Community (2002), I felt that there should be a connection between this show of early Parsi portraits and our gallery having an exhibition of photos of contemporary Parsis. At the time, Dayanita’s oeuvre was about extremely formal portraiture—families dressed up and the home/ backdrop almost became like anold-style studio photograph. We contacted several Parsi friends who were only too happy to dress up and be photographed by Dayanita [ Parsees at Home , 2002]. Today, they can’t believe the opportunity they got!
I have seen her in action. For her, the photograph is not just about people being ready and posing. Often such photos, where there was little or no interaction between Dayanita and the subject, ended up being failures for her. It was important for Dayanita to be involved in what they saw themselves as—discussing the clothes they wore, the look they preferred. It remained a democratic process, that came together as a very formal, final product, where the subject and photographer developed a relationship, where they were some how allowed to ‘actout’ what they wanted to be during those photos.
My favourite image of Dayanita’s is the cover image from the series Go Away Closer. The sheer transparency of the situation—this young girl who has returned from somewhere, her shoes still on, flopped on her bed—it’s a moment of complete abandonment that Dayanita caught.
Owner, Seven Art Limited, Delhi
I first saw Dayanita’s works a few years ago at Nature Morte gallery, in Delhi. It was one of the most exquisitely hung shows I had seen. It was many years later that I interacted with her, and she has to be one of the most gifted people/ artists I know. With File Room (2013), she has taken photography to another level. Her show at the Hayward Gallery was not only a visual treat but one of such prestige. Her upcoming show at the Art Institute in Chicago (March 1-June 1, 2014) promises to be even better.
There is one work of hers called Boston, which I love deeply. It reminds me of my favourite time with myself... thinking.
THIS PAGE: (Clockwise from left)
File Room/ Steidl 2013; Dream Villa/ Steidl 2010; Dayanita Singh (portrait by Ulrike Sommer); Zeis Ikon 1996. OPPOSITE PAGE: Blue
Book/ Steidl 2009.