b. 1978, India
Indian artist Charan Singh’s video Do I Know You? explores relationships. The artist spent 13 years working as a HIV/AIDS activist in India, and worked extensively with sex workers. His video is a re-creation of a real-life relationship between two young male sex workers, Amit and Parvez, whom he grew to know though his activist work. Ultimately, Do I Know You? tells the story of their relationship’s untimely and tragic end.
Singh’s portrait series Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others, documents homosexual Indian sub-cultures. The series title comes from the indigenous terms used by queer working class and transgendered men, often forced into sex work, to define their different and particular sexual identities. In Indian society, where class and caste are still major forces, these three groups are among some of the most marginalized.
Singh’s portraits are made in dialogue with the history of Indian photography, back to the stately portraits of the British Raj, and continuing through today’s Bollywood starlets. The subjects, some of who have never been photographed previously, are given space within the images to feel safe with their class, caste and sexuality.
“When I look at the history of Indian photography, I am overwhelmed by portraits of princely India and the prevailing exoticism around them; these portraits were about class, caste and colonial hierarchies. When I make photographs I want to make something queer but also want to challenge these stereotypes about photography about India. Many of my subjects have never had a studio portrait made in their lifetime. Therefore, I attempted to create a space where people could feel comfortable regardless of their class, caste, identity, gender, sexuality, performance; these are individual human beings each with their own nuances.” – Charan Singh
Singh lives and works from New Delhi and London. He is currently a PhD candidate in Photography at the Royal College of Art, London. Singh’s photographic practice is informed by his thirteen years of HIV/AIDS work and community activism in India, along with a formal study of the history of art and photography. He is interested in the representation of desires, identities, gender, sexualities, relationships, loss, trauma and recovery. Simultaneously, he questions notions of the genre of self portraiture, however the principal common thread of his works are memory, story telling, and masculinity. His work has been exhibited at Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2014), The Photographers Gallery, London (2015), and FotoFest, Houston (2015).