Messenger: Dayanita Singh: A Saligao Story

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April 24, 2022 | 05:24 IST

Dayanita Singh: A Saligao Story

Renowned photographer Dayanita Singh launched Let’s See, her brilliantly innovative new photo novel at the 92-year-old Saligao Institute instead of any other popular art festival destination like Berlin or New Delhi. VIVEK MENEZES establishes the link of Dayanita with Goa and the importance of this book launch for the state of Saligao and Goa.

Believe it or not, one of the highest-profile arts events to take place anywhere on the planet in 2022 was held earlier this week at the 92-year-old Saligao Institute when Dayanita Singh launched Let’s See, his brilliantly innovative new ‘photo-novel’ which has just rolled off the presses in Germany from the imprint of the great Gerhard Steidl, who is himself the most sought-after art publisher in the world.

It was an unprecedented season of triumph for the artist and – by implication – for India. Last month, it was announced that Singh had won the 2022 Hasselblad Prize, making her the first South Asian to receive the highest prize in photography, along with big names like Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Robert Frank and Sebastião Salgado. A few days later, a massive retrospective of his work opened at Gropius Bau, Berlin’s magnificent 19th-century landmark.

Yet when it came to launching the unique and ingenious Let’s See – no doubt another historic achievement – the artist did not do so in Berlin, or at Steidl’s headquarters three hours away in Göttingen, or even New Delhi, where she grew up and her mother still lives. Instead, Singh returned home to celebrate in the village of Goa where she resided part-time for more than two decades, during which time she graciously integrated into the robust and resilient cultural fabric of Saligao in profound ways. sincere.

Of course, while huge credit goes to Singh for the quiet and supportive way in which she has become an integral part of his vaddo, this is first and foremost a Saligao story, and just the latest chapter in an astonishing annal of globalization. In fact, as I myself pointed out 15 years ago in the now defunct Time Out, after Singh published her first Steidl publication – the thin, bright and deeply poignant Go Away Closer – she’s not even not the first artist of world importance to make art history from this place: “There is a curious parallel with the equally original notebook of the Goanese painter Francis Newton Souza – Words and Lines (Villiers, 1958) , whose nucleus was also born from a long period spent mainly alone in an old house in Saligao.

At that time in 2007, when no one was paying much attention to this highly unusual engagement between an artist and her adopted village, or even trying to understand the deep creative ideas that were slowly gathering there, Singh inscribed my cherished copy of Go Away Closer with a confessional: “A long time ago – a photographer from Delhi walked the streets of Saligao. Here she met people she couldn’t see. In time, she bought the house of one such person, Dr. D’mello, conductor of the Saligao Symphony Orchestra.

What the artist recounts are the aftermath of her first forays into Saligao, where she lived with her then-boyfriend (they broke up before Go Away Closer was published). Unlike many other places, she was welcomed everywhere and took many family photos. Then she hosted an exhibition called DemelloVaddo (she says it was “a made-up name”) at the Saligao Institute, along with the usual Goan village festivities. During this event, someone told him that there was indeed a DemelloVaddo in Saligao, and that his budding love affair with the village should extend to life there.

It was then that Singh’s life began to mesh with his works, in ways that are hard to explain – they have to be seen and experienced to be even half-understood. She wrote in my copy of Go Away Closer that “her pictures of invisible people hang in the front room [of her house, where] musicians record barely heard sounds. Friends say there’s a drug in the water as they move to vilambit [a very slow tempo in Hindustani classical music] fashion.” Eventually, in all seriousness, she started using DayanitaDemello as her name on Facebook.

What is going on? Can anyone marry his house? Is it possible that Dayanita Singh is an artist from Goa, whose work cannot be understood without connecting the dots to Saligao? In the simple nativist logic with which we were brought up – and as another artist of Goanese origin, who is currently in Lisbon, recently asked me – can someone’s native village change?

It would make no sense to produce flippant or easy answers to any of these questions (except for the last one: yes, of course, our home villages can and do change regularly, even in the traditional calculation of Goa). Instead, it is worth dwelling on the exceptional setting built by the Saligao Institute, where Goans who have settled all over the world have come together over generations to create and nurture a democratic space where all members are equal and where everyone is welcome.

In this regard, it is very helpful – it may sound crazy to any expert in the art world – to understand Dayanita Singh’s book launch in the context of the cheerful and bright weekly Made in Saligao community market that s has established itself as an unbeatable platform for – as they describe themselves – “the ladies of Saligao to exhibit their wares”.

There’s good food, all kinds of local produce, all kinds of crafts, and endless supplies of good humor. Check it out, and of course everything makes sense. Naturally, this was the right and most appropriate place for another lady from Saligao to exhibit her own work – it makes no difference that this particular offering was custom designed in Germany on bespoke paper, with the binding the most meticulously crafted in the world.

There’s a lot more to say, understand, and acknowledge, but what you need to know is that every element of the Saligao Institute’s wondrous Pustakachem Fest went marvelously well on the sidelines of the Community Market this Tuesday. When the sun went down, another table was added to the lineup, and the proud and happy Saligaokars celebrated one of their own in the way she cherishes the most. She revealed another key truth: India’s greatest living artist is quite deeply Made in Saligao herself.

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