This Photographer Wants To Put A Museum In Your Pocket

Dayanita Singh’s Museum Bhavan contains nine accordion books that expand into a 7.5-foot-long gallery of black and white photographs.

For the past two decades, photographer Dayanita Singh has been the subject of exhibitions and retrospectives at museums around the world. Her poetic images of Indian family life and architecture, abandoned spaces and private moments, are the kind of classically beautiful works coveted by curators and collectors.

But in recent years, Singh became frustrated with the conventional gallery format. “Photography is such a magical form but it’s gotten a little stunted,” she says. “The most magical experience of photography is when it’s in your hands, because it’s here — you’re touching it, you can hear it, you can smell it.”

In her latest exhibition, Museum Bhavan, Singh set out to recreate the tactile experience of leafing through an old family album. Instead of a brick-and-mortar space, her galleries are housed in a small box you can purchase at a bookstore. Each box contains nine slim accordion books that expand into a 7.5-foot-long gallery of black and white photographs. The images are drawn from across Singh’s career, and feature characters and themes from her previous collections in new storylines. Singh calls them portable “pocket museums.”

Singh presents her Museum Bhavan books at the 2017 Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, India.

Courtesy of Dayanita Singh

“I’m inviting you — you — to be the curator of my work,” she says. “And certainly when you have an exhibition of my work in your house, it’s a great privilege for me. It’s a privilege to be in a museum, but it’s also a privilege to be in a domestic space.”

Mario Kramer is a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt, Germany. He’s been collecting Singh’s work for years, and he acknowledges that with her new book she’s defying the authority of institutions like his own. He says, “It’s a whole exhibition in a pocket format … and this intimacy in your two hands with a book is something totally different than standing in front of a wall.”