City Homes – Dayanita Singh’s Book Walls, Vasant Vihar
Inside an artist’s studio.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Dayanita Singh lives amid moving walls of her books. This afternoon, at her second floor studio in Vasant Vihar, the artist appears by sliding away one of the walls.
These moving things make the space as full of possibilities as a kaleidoscope. The hall’s fixed (brick) wall is equipped with four sliding walls. As Ms Singh pushes away one, the chamber behind —her archive room—slowly comes into view. It’s like a two dimensional panorama gaining its depth.
On the other side stands another book wall, leading to her printing room.
“These are two of my books,” says Ms Singh, referring to these walls. “This side is File Room, and that side is Museum of Chance.” The Museum of Chance wall has 88 copies of the book with 88 different covers—each of them an image from the book. These hardbounds are inserted in wooden structures and hung on the walls. “This way, the book becomes an exhibition, and the exhibition becomes a book.”
In October, Ms Singh will land in the Swedish city of Gothenburg to attend a ceremony in her honour. The King of Sweden will be present. She will be presented with the 2022 Hasselblad Award. The first photographer in South Asia to be so distinguished, Ms Singh will join the rank of legends such as Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Nan Goldin. The materialistic among us might like to be informed that the award includes a 200,000 dollars prize. (In comparison, the International Booker Prize awardee receives 63,000 dollars.) Ms Singh plans to use a part of that money to introduce an annual lecture series in which she will invite “the finest international minds on critical writing in photography” to engage with writers in India. She has decided to name this ambitious project after her late friend and the protagonist of her second book, Myself Mona Ahmed.
An author of 13 books, Ms Singh envisages many more book walls in her studio. “The third layer will come up as soon as I complete my next book, Pothi Khana. Then there will be Museum of Tanpura. Then Museum of Dance…”
With so many walls, won’t her place become as cramped as Purani Dilli? How will she walk from the printing room to the kitchen? “I will squeeze through, or die inside them and nobody will find me.”
The award ceremony in Sweden will be followed by an exhibition. A book on her work on archives —Sea of Files — will be simultaneously published. It will include an essay by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.
Dayanita Singh’s walled city