Dayanita Singh- The Artist and the Book Maker

Apr 01, 2014 | Vol 6, Issue 2
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Dayanita Singh from New Delhi is an internationally known artist in Photography/book making travelled across Kerala (India) in April 2014 as part of her new project connected with Kochi Muziris Biennale 2014. During these days she shared some of her experiences and thoughts with Prakash Manhapra, Editor of Welcome Kerala, who assisted her in some part of her travel to find out places and people of special interest.

I actually came to know Kerala (india) through G Aravindan's films. Later I came to Trivandrum and stayed in his house with his son Ramu. Then I came back once more and I did some photographs at  Padmanabhapuram palace. That palace is my favourite monument in the whole country. During this period  I made a small box aptly  called 'Sent a letter' containing  seven little books in it, which holds seven little exhibits - exhibitions and one of it is  called Padmanabhapuram ,a pointer to my Kerala connection.

 The Biennale Project

In 2014 I received an invite to participate in Biennale 2014 from Jithesh Kallat the curator for the event. His suggestion was at least come and see the place. I want to do things as and when I feel ready to do them. If it suites your purpose, well and good. But I have to do what I need to do.

 I was very interested in paper and file rooms and on the first day I went around in Kochi I saw lot of reading rooms. And what really struck and impressed me was that you could find quite lot of young men there. In fact the Kochi public library has two three reading stands and people waiting to read that news paper and they are not old people.. I was obsessed to visit the reading rooms. And the most beautiful reading room is the Corporation reading room; I didn't know the area, its just beautiful with reading stands in all the verandas. That's when I started to check about the libraries and the archives which led me to Trivandrum and aptly photographed the archives there. So the reading room was something new, but the archives were always what I wanted to capture wherever I go.  The other thing I always do when I go to a place is to try to find the personal memorial museums and that is my way of entering a space. It doesn't mean that finally my work will be about archives. So I was looking for some personal museums in Kochi and surprisingly I didn't find any.

But you know what we saw yesterday, which was about the first educationist Joseph Mundassery, you could see his personal memorabilia ,  umbrella,  watch,  pen,   cloths, his favourite sitting chair this  is what I mean by personal museum. The library you took me to, and the museum inside, was just so beautiful. It was like a work of art in itself. If I could just move it to the Kochi Biennale , it's  a work to be relished. The way they had covered each book over there, the way they wound labels, the hand writing on them, the library part that we went to was really exquisite.  So that was the most impressive thing I saw in this trip, but I will come back.

The other thing that impressed me very much was in the state archives. These archivists and the librarian we met at Joseph Mundassery museum, they are very special people. The way they connect to their material is actually like the artists we have been seeing. We are not thinking of them as artists. But how they look after, preserve it with so much love and the same dedication, I saw even in the state archives, which is a Government institution. I think the work that all these archivists and librarians do is really under appreciated. They work quietly and they have been working for decades like that. The work that they do is invaluable; they are the custodians of history. To me, they are almost like a secret society.

The other aspect of this trip has been the experience of going to the two home stays. Both are very impressive. But it can also serve a great purpose for old people. Because even if you have money, everything, what you lack is when your children are away, there are no grand children, possibly there is certain loneliness living in some large house. So, home stays are another way of caring for the elderly.

I came here for Kochi Biennale (2014) to see the spaces, but I think this is going to be a much longer project  and I will for some reason or the other I will be back I am sure; I can never say what my work will be at the Kochi biennale, till I actually make it. But this will become something I don't know what. For me the project goes  on for years. The 'File room' I had started to photograph fifteen years ago. But I had not realised it. I work very intuitively as you must have noticed. Like when I was photographing the empty bottles in the Ayurvedic factory, above that light switch, I actually  have quite a few pictures of empty bottles, over the years,  I don't know why, I don't know what it will become, But I feel that I need to do this, so I will photograph it. I also got a big series of machine portraits, where the machines look like human beings. Today in the factory, you must have noticed each one had a certain character. So I can't say what will become what, but I know that some kind of a connection has started with Kerala. In my case, once that sort of connection is made then it doesn't go away for years.

Mostly I prefer Black and White, because I always want to be that 'something' more in the photos than what is in front of the cameras. There is no name for that 'Something else'. And that something else comes in more easily in Black and White than in colour. What I can say is I don't make the work to please anybody. I make the work because I need to, because I have to. Then if there is appreciation for it, it is a nice bonus. If people are critical of the work, that is also fine.  Because, I can only do what I can do, and what I can do, I have to do. And I have made my life so that I can totally focus on that.

(Also visit www.dayanitasingh.com)

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