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Artist Profile3
A quick glance at Dayanita Singh’s oeuvre exuding poetic and expressive qualities
Among one of India’s most accomplished photographers of her generation, Dayanita Singh’s work offers a curious perspective of the seemingly mundane day-to-day events and moments. She is internationally recognized for her photographs that exude highly poetic and expressive qualities. The incidence of light and visual construction in her images are composed with such meticulousness that they make viewers pause and contemplate.

The passionate photographer tends to function as a storyteller who does not let a viewer get too cozy with what they are experiencing through her form and content. Sharing her sources of inspiration as an artist, she has stated in an interview, “Many writers have influenced and shaped my work to a great extent - Michael Ondaatje, Italo Calvino, Sunil Khilnani, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth and Geoff Dyer... Some of them I could only read, whereas I did have the privilege of conversing with.”

Her wonderful series, entitled ‘Dream Villa’, is being showcased as part of the official exhibition series at the 2011 Venice Biennale. ‘Illuminations’ that forms part of the international showcase is accompanied by ‘File Room’, a new body of work that is comprised of about 40 black & white photos. Meanwhile, a just concluded career retrospective show at Museum of Modern Art, Bogota in Colombia included about 100 images. The traveling show (Huis Marseille in France and MAPFRE in Spain) traced her artistic trajectory from the late nineties until today. It featured many of her renowned works, such as ‘Go Away Closer’, ‘Dream Villa’, ‘Blue Book’, ‘I am as I Am’, and ‘Myself Mona Ahmed’.

Born in New Delhi in 1961, Dayanita Singh first studied at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad and later honed her skills at International Center of Photography (ICP), New York. On her arrival in India, she focused on photojournalism and documentary photography, working for several magazines and newspapers in the late 1980s. During this phase she constructed several thought provoking compositions with her lens and imagination.

Among her selected solo shows are 'Retrospective' courtesy Huis Marseille Museum for Photography (2010); a show at Sala Azca De Fundacion Mapfre, Madrid (2010); 'Blue Book', Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai and Nature Morte, Delhi (2009); 'Let You Go', Nature Morte, Berlin (2008-09); ‘Dream Villa’, Frith Street Gallery, London (2008); ‘Go Away Closer and Sent a Letter’, Hermes pace, Berlin (2008); ‘Sent a Letter’, Nature Morte, Berlin (2008). The artist’s work has also been prominently featured in several group exhibitions including 'Against All Odds', LKA, Delhi (2011); 'Metropolis', The New Art Gallery Walsall (2010); 'After the Volcano', Frith Street, London (2010); 'Black and White', Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke (2010); 'Detour', Chemould Prescott, Mumbai (2009); 'India 3: New Delhi- Republic of Illusions', Galerie Krinzinger, Wein (2009).

Her noteworthy participations include 'Where Three Dreams Cross, Whitechapel Gallery, London; Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2010); ‘Art Basel’ and 'ARCOmadrid' courtesy Nature Morte / Bose Pacia (2009); 'Indian Highway', a traveling exhibit courtesy Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo; ‘Manifesta 7’, Italy (2008); and The 7th Gwangju Biennale’, South Korea. Over the last three and a half decades Dayanita Singh has been invited by international museums, galleries and art fairs. She was given the Prince Claus Award by the Government of Netherlands (2008) for ‘her images of outstanding quality with ‘a well-articulated and insightful view of contemporary Indian society.’ She was particularly appreciated for having infused a new aesthetic idiom and vigor into Indian photography. In 2008, she was offered Robert Gardner Fellowship from Harvard University.

Publishing is also a significant part of her practice. Her books, often published without text, involve experiments with different techniques of producing and viewing photographs. 'Sent a Letter' incorporates seven little albeit intimate accordion-folded pocket photo journals. By the early 1990s she was focusing more on her immediate environs. Her photography project on a eunuch, Mona Ahmed, marked a critical juncture in her career. Again in ‘I am as I am’ (1999), her bonding with the subject at a personal level was underlined. Her emphasis from that point onward was more on cropping, composition, detail and precise light. During this period she unveiled ‘Ladies of Calcutta’, a portrait series (1997–1999) and ‘Privacy’ (2002), tracing her roots to the higher social classes.

In fact, the highly accomplished and socially sensitive photographer is known to explore and traverse inherent limitations of color film in the traditional sense, sans technological intervention or computer manipulations. The conspicuous absence of people marks her series of works, entitled ‘Blue Book’ (2008) and ‘Dream Villa’ (2010), probably her largest ever single body of color work, in which she inspects the mysteriousness of ordinary spaces obscured in darkness. It’s one of those projects largely devoid of human presence. The vacant, unusually quiet, anonymous and deserted spaces in the series bring the deft drama of light and shadow to the fore. On the other hand, ‘Blue Book’ is comprised of images of eerie industrial landscapes.

The artist’s recent works are akin to a mystical landscape that exists as much in her imagination as in reality. They also bring into play the peculiarities and possibilities of color film. The outcome is a lush image saturated with intense shades and subject matter. She expertly explores the color as found all through the humdrum of daily life, exploring the exciting possibilities of color film, as has been observed by critics, in the traditional sense.