The bringing together of photography and dance, by virtue of an ontological disparity between these media, produces an initial and immediate tension between movement and stillness. As if photography is always chasing the movement of dance, without ever being able to completely capture it.
Dayanita Singh’s practice emerges from and feeds on precisely this tension. Her interest in the mobility of the photographic object when exhibited, present in the structures/collections she calls museums, takes on even more complexity and nuance in the works presented at the 35th Bienal. In Museum of Dance (Mother Loves to Dance), not only are the photographic prints mobile in the exhibition space, but the subjects are also in movement, dancing. Among them, Mona Ahmed, Singh’s long-time friend who also features in the other works on display, is notable for her recurrence.
According to Singh, in the Indian context, Ahmed was identified as a eunuch, or as a hijra. However, at a certain point she distanced herself from the eunuch community and began to question the expectation of femininity that was placed on her. “You really do not understand. I am the third sex, not a man trying to be a woman. It is your society’s problem that you only recognize two sexes.”1 Thus it is of little importance to “describe” Ahmed with identarian precision, but it does matter to think about the endless movement that exceeds the binary gender system and that we can call transition. Beyond a portrayal of transition as an allegory of aesthetic-political movements, as often occurs when produced through a cisnormative lens, the intimacy and the pact of trust established in the collaboration between Singh and Ahmed, by bypassing ethnographic unidirectionality (the “I” seeing/describing/producing the “other”), allows something formidable to happen: the still image evokes and performs the uncapturable movement of transition.
translated from Portuguese by philip somervell
Dayanita Singh (New Delhi, India, 1961) has developed a body of work distinguished by her photography. In recent years, the artist has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Mudam – The Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MN, USA) and Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (Japan). Her work is part of the collections of institutions such as the Centre Pompidou (Paris, France), K21–Kunstsammlung NRW (Düsseldorf, Germany), Moderna Museet (Stockholm, Sweden), and SFMOMA (San Francisco, CA, USA).
1. Quote by Mona Ahmed extracted from the text on Dayanita Singh’s website about the book Myself Mona Ahmed. Zurich: Scalo Publishers, 2001. Available at: dayanitasingh.net/myself-mona-ahmed/. Accessed on: May 26, 2023.