Critics’ Picks

Spread from Dayanita Singh’s Zakir Hussain, 1986.

Spread from Dayanita Singh’s Zakir Hussain, 1986.


Dayanita Singh

52-56 V B Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda
January 10–February 9, 2020

“I think in books,” says Dayanita Singh. Early in her career, Singh would cut up her medium-format contact sheets and paste them into accordion notebooks that could be unraveled and displayed. Bookmaking, for Singh, is a way by which to understand the photographs she takes. This exhibition, “Zakir Hussain’s Maquette,” consists of a book, its spreads, and an accompanying foldout poster pinned onto the gallery walls. Specifically, what’s on display is a facsimile of a maquette Singh made as a student in 1968 titled “Zakir Hussain,” a photo-essay full of meticulously handwritten notes, measurements, and thoughts. It’s a curious object, brimming with secrets, which rips open the fourth wall. Singh not only lets us into the life of her subject, the infamous tabla player Zakir Hussain, but also into her approach—how she thinks and negotiates images, what makes her tick. “Need a lot of breathing space,” she writes on one page. “Emptiness should speak.”

The poster, fifteen photographs printed together in a tight set, is Singh’s newest experiment with bookmaking (or “book building,” as she calls it). A story unfolds: Hussain is seated next to his teacher and father, Allarakha Qureshi, both of them in front of their tablas, hands poised over the drums. Each progressing image slowly animates the men as they reciprocate affection, acknowledging each other’s rhythm and genius. The photographs, like those in the maquette, are intimate and precise. Singh’s practice often challenges institutionalized exhibition making. By turning this book of generous, spirited images into a show, she effortlessly continues in the same vein.