In a revolutionary move, the German pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale is showcasing work by non-German artists. DW spoke to Indian photographer Danyanita Singh about her work and views on identity.
Deutsche Welle: What was your first reaction when you were invited to the Venice Biennale this year?
Dayanita Singh: I was honored and surprised. The other co-artists are very strong, very political. I make small books. I am a more interior kind of person.
Was it a challenge for you?
It was a great challenge. I accepted it because I really don't like the idea of nationality and I have spent the last 10 years as an artist trying to say: 'Please look at my work and don't worry about if I am Indian or Pakistani. Why should my nationality be so important?' And I thought it was wonderful that the German pavilion had decided not to look at nationality.
You started your career as a photojournalist and are now one of the most important artists in India. Could you explain this process?
I was a photojournalist only for two or three years. I have been practicing for 25 years now. I don't like categories. What I did get from photojournalism is determination. But I wasn't able to deal with the voyeuristic aspect, the power situation in journalism.
Darkness and night shootings are very important in your work.
Yes, I like the night because it completely removes the context. You can't tell where the pictures have been photographed. You can't tell the larger context. The play with the real and the fictional is what I am interested in. This is what my work really is. It's the dream, it's that time between waking and sleeping, half awake, when things are colliding. And maybe that is something that will get explored in Venice.
Do you use a special technique?
I use daylight film at night. That way the color gets exaggerated. And that's what I like. Everything becomes hallucinogenic.
Most of your work is small-scale. Why?
I like the small scale. I like the fact that you can carry it in your pocket. You can make exhibitions in any hotel room. It's wonderful to be able to do that with photography. I don't know another medium that would allow that. That's what I love about photography. I'm not interested in the monumentality of photography.
What role does your country India play in your work?
I am not interested in satisfying the curiosity about India. I am not interested in trying to explain this country to other people. But if live in a certain place - yes, my pictures will be from that place but I hope there is more to the work than the place.
Archives are very important in your work. Why?
It's a fascinating world and you can really get lost in it. Just the feel of paper, the smell. Sitting and catalogueing all the papers. I realized two years ago that I had actually photographed these rooms full of paper for over 10 years. But I wasn't really paying attention to it. Then, I tried to get permission for any government office in India that I could get to, any archive that I could get to. And there was always a certain type of archive I was looking for. It would have to be on the floor. On the walls toppling over. There was an image in my head that I had to find in these archives.
And what did you find there?
Most of them are birth records, death records, marriage records, tax records. But I never open the files. I was not so interested in what's in them. Each of those files and photographs are, I guess, full of thousands and thousands of secrets and lies. Who is to say, what was true? And that was also the thrill of it.
You describe yourself as a "bookmaker." Can you elaborate?
When I make a book I am the curator of the project. I am deciding the type size, the type of paper, the binding, the sequencing, where I want blank pages. It's all under my control. It's all my work. And there is nobody else. The Biennales come and go. But what's important is what remains. And that's the book.
Dayanita Singh is a photographer who lives and works in New Delhi and Goa. She is one of four non-German artists whose work is on show in the German pavilion at Venice Biennale 2013 which runs from 1. June to 24. November.