POCKET MUSEUM; my book story


Museum Bhavan, my pocket museum, published by Steidl 2017.


Sent a Letter installed at the FotoMuseum Winterthur

With Sent a Letter (2007) the idea of the book as exhibition, in its own right, became clear to me.The Book object trajectory had started in my work. Until then when it came to Museums exhibitions and collections, it was impossible to have the book there as my work and not as an accompanying catalogue. They said “Dayanita a book is a book and an exhibition is an exhibition” but for me it was not so. I wanted to insert a Go Away Closer book inside each frame of the silver print that people collected. I felt in acquiring a single image they were plucking one note out of my symphony. I had to get the book on par with my prints.

It has been 10 years of following this obsession, against every advice, but I could not stop it. Invite me and you could be sure I would smuggle the book cart in ( as I did at the Venice Bienale 2013), if you said NO CARTS please, I would build a bookcase and carry it in myself, if you said no shipping, I built a Suitcase museum that I could check in on the flight, each problem presented an new solution, another Book object. I even have bookcarts in my house, for guests who may not have the chance to acquire my books.

I had explored the accordian fold format when I had made the CHAIRS book at the Gardner Museum, but there the focus had been more on the system of distribution that was the emphasis. 50 distributor friends were fedexed 10 copies of the CHAIRS accordian fold book. It was upto them how they chose to distribute the book. Someone handed it to the first ten people he saw on one particular day, another friend kept them locked till someone had sufficiently appreciated the display copy, and when I carried with me one of my 10 books for Sol Lewitt, he laughed and said keep it Dayanita, I have three already.

But with Sent a Letter, which had 7 letters I had made for friends that I travelled with, and it came housed in a special handmade box, Steidl published 2000 of these.A regular edition. So 2000 homes had 7 miniature exhibitions of my work. It is now out of print and I took the last copies and made a museum out of them. These vitrines of Sent a Letter have been displayed in many Museums and galleries as well as the buyers homes.

I installed Sent a Letter in the vitrines of Satram Das Jeweller in 2008, right on Park street, next to Flurys, they are still there, in Jan 2017. On the busiest street in Calcutta, a daily exhibition , running for almost a decade.

Sent a Letter installed at Satram Das Jeweller Kolkata since 2008

Then came the FILEROOM book. At the last moment I asked Steidl if we could make the inside images the same size as the cover images, as this would allow me to cut images from the book and paste them onto the cover image, there by having as many covers as there were images in the book. This then allowed me to have an exhibition set. I also built a mobile Museum for these 77 different covers FILEROOM book museum. This was shown at the National Museum in Delhi. Finally I started to work on a structure for an individual book to be displayed on the wall, alongside ones miniature paintings or water colors. This led to the FILEROOM book object and for me a dream come true. The idea that my book could hang alongside my silver prints. I loved both forms, silver and steidl offset.

FILEROOM book and book cart installed at the MMK Frankfurt

For Museum of Chance book I actually asked Steidl if each of the inside images could also be cover images. He was very annoyed at my bizarre request, but then as always, thought about it overnight, and said ok, lets do it. Museum of Chance was an edit made from 30 years of my work, held together by the idea of Chance. So it seemed appropriate that the cover you bought was also by chance. Meaning you had no choice in which cover you got if you bought online and from the bookshop just the choice of the covers they had. No one except me and the MMK had the full sets as that was the tedious part.

This also allowed me to have exhibitions in unlikely places for eg the foyer of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. Something I could never do with ‘original’ prints or Mobile museums.


I then took the sets that I had, and made an edition of 352 Museum of Chance book object from them. Each set of 44 books had the 88 images inside it, on the front and back cover. I again built a wooden structure for the book, and at special secret events I would individualise each book that was bought from the set of 44. This was the only time you could select exactly the cover you wanted. I liked that people had to engage personally in buying the book, in deciding the cover and if they decided to buy two or three, then it took hours to make the right combination, as the back cover added another layer to the edit.

Later this also became the Museum of Chance book case , that I could hand carry on flights and finally the SUITCASE MUSEUM which I could take as check in baggage.


Then Steidl and I,decided to publish a Pocket Museum. We took images from all the 9 Museums that make MUSEUM BHAVAN ( a travelling family of Museums) and made 9 accordian fold books. Since we had already published FILEROOM, we took images of the Godrej cupboards from the FILEMUSEUM and made a GODREJ MUSEUM. Similarly, having made Museum of Chance, we made a completely new edit and this became ONGOING MUSEUM. We also added a book of conversations. I still wanted to see if it was possible to make a mass produced book/museum and yet have each one be unique. We achieved this impossible task by making in India 3000 unique boxes for the MUSEUM BHAVAN book. So now the Museum Bhavan book that you will buy will be a totally unique box, that will house 9 of my Museums. You buy the book object as the Pocket Museum.


Coming soon……….to a bookshop near you, this one does not need any special editions or exhibitions. It is itself the Museum , and the unique/mass produced book. I had the oppurtunity to show it inside the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul.



Most of all it is an invitation to the ‘collector’ to become the curator of my work, in their home, office or hotel room. A friend even had an opening for it infront of the Taj Mahal.

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POCKET MUSEUM; my book story


Museum of Chance  book object 20141106_145606 2BookObjectHawaMahal invitation

On 20th January 2016 I will open  the exhibition BOOK OBJECT Museum of Chance at  Hawa Mahal Jaipur. The exhibition will be open daily from 9 am until 5 pm. It will stay on until 20th March.

I am very happy to present this at a time when the book world congregates at the Jaipur Literary festival . I am curious to see what the response of Book people will be to the Book on the wall, while my prints are now in mobile museums, away from the wall. If in Delhi do see MUSEUM BHAVAN at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

I think I have finally succeeded in finding the form that is both book and exhibition at the same time. This was something I first explored with Sent a Letter, continued with FILEROOM where I cut up the book of 77 images and made 77 different covers, to finally convincing Steidl to make me a book for each image inside was also a cover. Then the challenge was to literally Frame the Book, to build a structure where the book was a book but also an exhibition. Where the book became a catalogue of its own exhibition. we achieved this with MUSEUM OF CHANCE Museum of Chance  book object 20141106_111357



Please wait to join the gallery dear aspiring artist

Dear Aspiring Artist

You finish Art college and you dream of being picked up by a gallery, and then you think you will become an Artist. If only it were so simple, the gallerists would also be artists along with hundred other people. If there is any other profession you can do, do it. Being an Artist is tough and never gets easier. Dont be fooled by market surveys and page 3 photos.

Somehow in India, we equate being a ‘succesfull’ artist with having a gallery, simply because there is no other space in which to show ones work. How many Artists can galleries take, how many galleries can there be? and are galleries the only space to show ones work? How then will we think of forms outside the gallery space….

My advice to you, get a job and pursue your Art in your spare time.Making Art is a long and solitary journey, that space of exploration needs to be nurtured, tended to, before it finds its own direction. I would say wait ten years or some significant amount of time, before you join a gallery, be the author of your work before you even look for the right gallery, dont go to a gallery while you are still unsure.You could get terribly stuck in your enquiry if you join too early. There needs to be a considerable amount of time between Art college and joining the gallery, the time of exploration.

A gallery is there to present your work to a larger world, it works very hard in creating a conversation for that work, and finally in selling/positioning the work. The flip side of this is that you could have to keep making that work, with maybe some deviations, but nothing too major . The risk is too much for the gallery after it has invested all that time and energy in your work and therefore if you depend on gallery sales, on you too. Get a job, bake the best bread, design weddings, drive, teach, anything to have a minimum amount of survival money. I once thought I would calculate how much money I needed for my bare survival for the month and sell my work for that amount.

A gallery is a commercial space, it needs to survive to keep showing your work and to do that it needs to sell work. And in India galleries, to their great credit, have served many roles, because we have barely any museums or not for profit Art spaces. How much can we expect of the gallery.

Where in India is the space to experiment, to show works in progress.We have to make them.

Which is why the Kochi bienale becomes the  most important Art space in the country. Where one hopes there is the possibility of showing ‘experimental’ work, work that is not determined by its market, work that is exploratory. It helps that an Artist is the curator. I wonder if the bienale might become an educational space as well, of ongoing conversations with the showing Artists.Might that be a way to offer some parallel education in the Arts.

Yes we have a Khoj but we need a 100 khojs in a country this size. Perhaps we have to find our own alternate spaces for showing our work. I now make mobile museums, so that I can send them to other libraries, museums, institutions. I would even take them to a hospital o a university. If I keep waiting for them to invite me, it may never happen.I send them proposals, most times there is no reply, but once it happens and you find a new space, it is magic.

In 2008 I made my first book exhibition SENT A LETTER and put it in the Satram Das Jewellers vitrines on Park street in Calcutta. 7 years later, it is still showing there on Park street. Using the medium of Photography, one is aware that one of the most significant aspects of the medium, is the dissemination of Photography. Which is where the book becomes more the form than the print of the wall, for me. I now even have the Book on the walls with Museum of Chance. But there are hundreds of ways of disseminating photography, the gallery wall is only one of them.

We had a boom in the Indian economy around 2008, and at the same time, a boom in the Art scene and prices went through the roof. Suddenly everyone wanted to see ‘Indian art’. then came the recession and with it the dip in the art world.That time was a serious exception.It was an economic situation, not necessarily an “art movement”.

It was never easy living as an Artist, and it may not always be. Its a high risk profession. Great artist had jobs and made work- Bhupen Khakhar, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, there must be so many others. Its only recently that we think of being an Artist as the sole way of earning a living. I think there is something quite major to reconsider here. Why do you want to be an Artist?

I write this to you because I get a sense of the hope and aspiration you come to the Art world, but there is a lot else you need to do other than find the right gallery.

The right gallery is also a challenge, I think some of us are very lucky to have found the right fit. If the gallery is too commerical, thats a problem, if they are not commercial, thats also a problem, I suppose its to do with what you are coming to Art making for. If its to explore and experiment and be in a state of constant enquiry, then you have to work very hard to find a suitable gallery.This too is not easy but if you do find the gallery that is willing to engage in an ongoing conversation, its a dream. Meanwhile I really hope we will build some not for profit Art spaces, till then we need to keep finding alternate venues.

The India Art fair is one such occasion. You could do something at that time, in some other part of the city, word of mouth will get people there. The off site fairs always get everyones attention. If the Kochi bienale seems to much a dream, nothing stops you from doing something in the city at that time, on your own. Clark House initiative did this at the first bienale.

Wish you all the luck, you need it, as well as all the books and travels you can get yourselves. It never gets easy, and as I have been saying, the day one gets comfortable/complacent is the day to stop making Art.

Dayanita Singh


Please wait to join the gallery dear aspiring artist