THE MOTHER OF MU­SE­UMS

India Today - - THE ARTS -

SPA­CES WITHIN SPA­CES. MU­SE­UMS within mu­se­ums. Com­pact and fold­able, they are en­tire worlds in them­selves. To­gether, they are a vast realm of mem­o­ries go­ing back to 1981, when she started pho­tograph­ing.

And so there is a Mu­seum of Lit­tle Ladies and a File Mu­seum, a Mu­seum of Men and the Mu­seum of Pho­tog­ra­phy, Mu­se­ums of Fac­to­ries, Fur­ni­ture and Vitrines, as well as a Mu­seum of Chance.

Dayanita Singh’s Mu­seum Bha­van is a mother mu­seum, hold­ing within it nine smaller mu­se­ums. Her mu­se­ums give birth to other mu­se­ums. But she is quick to add that they aren’t mat­ing.

Her jour­ney be­gan by ask­ing her­self the ques­tion: could the mu­seum it­self be not just a venue, but a form in it­self? “I am mak­ing mu­se­ums as a form and ar­chi­tec­ture,” she says. “My work is so much about the dis­sem­i­na­tion and open­ing and clos­ing of struc­tures, adding and re­mov­ing ob­jects.”

Ar­ranged in clus­ters, her mu­se­ums act as screens. Folded, they are im­mer­sive spa­ces where you can pull out a stool and lose your­self in time. Open another, and you might find a ta­ble and two stools, with no back­rest. So that you can lean in, and lis­ten to the other.

For her most re­cent Mu­seum Bha­van, Dayanita has as her raw ma­te­rial 800 pho­to­graphs. Each struc­ture has 140 pho­to­graphs in­side it, but only 40 can be dis­played at any given point.

Her mother’s bed­side drawer was al­ways full of things. It was my per­sonal mu­seum of clips, says Dayanita. “My house was full of al­bums. To me, you printed a pho­to­graph to make some­thing. The book was an ob­vi­ous for­mat. My mother would tell me that some­day these pho­to­graphs will be of tremen­dous im­por­tance. A pho­to­graph is when a lot is left un­said.” But then if you are a poet or a dancer, it opens up in­cred­i­ble and in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties.

She is in­ter­ested in events un­fold­ing out­side the frame and in pic­tures in­ter­act­ing with each other to form part or whole of a nar­ra­tive. She doesn’t be­lieve in cap­tion­ing her images. Facts limit the scope of a pic­ture. Place it in another con­text, and you can have a mil­lion other nar­ra­tives, a mil­lion other chances.

Next on her agenda is a pocket mu­seum. She al­ready has a suit­case mu­seum.

DAYANITA SINGH, 56, PHO­TOG­RA­PHER AND ARTIST

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