As a child, Ayesha Singh was known for drawing profusely on the walls of her Delhi home. While this earned her a scolding from her parents, her grandfather encouraged her to decorate, or even deface, the walls. And thus began her tryst with art. All through her school life, Singh found herself drawn to the arts. And eventually, she chose her passion over economics and maths and attended Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. Here, she began to create sculptures, photographs and walk-around installations, even though she had enrolled in the painting department.
Her zeal for art and innate desire to explore new ways of creative expression led her to working with artist-book publishers, galleries, art fairs, foundations, institutions and self-directed public projects. Over the years, Singh developed an understanding of the way the art systems work and deciphered ways to protect her practice from the difficulties that might arise while working in this ever-evolving space. The result: she co-founded Art Chain India (ACI) in the thick of the pandemic as a peer-support resource for visual artists living and working in the subcontinent.
The desire to move into an architectural space stemmed from her own interaction with the buildings around her in Delhi, her childhood home, localities, both private and public spaces like monuments, state architecture, and the treatment of such structures. She began to question the way architecture constantly ‘borrowed’ from various styles. Specifically, “the appropriation of architecture as it moves from various communities and cultures to signify new intentions via old connotations,” she says.
Following a stint at Slade School of Fine Art in London and then returning to India in 2016, she began showing her work. The artist has even created installations for sites in a number of cities around the world, including Chongqing, Chicago, Miami, Turin, Vienna and Yorkshire, besides Delhi and Mumbai. Singh’s work, it’s been said, highlights the assertion of established systems of power in architecture. Though she believes, “My works question the assumed permanence of architecture and the histories that are omitted.”
The artist’s research is contextualised within the continuities of colonial monuments and presence of contemporary empires, capitalist as well as political. She currently works with video, sculpture, installation, performance and drawings to create sites of discourse and record. The viewer walks through her sculptural drawings that embody transcultural structures and amalgamate from the local. Architectural-sized images on the façades of buildings confront the neighbouring community with markers of transformation.
We have the multifaceted artist share her thoughts on her practice and India’s current art ecosystem, in a heart-to-heart.
HELLO: Tell us about a recent work that meant a lot to you.
Ayesa Singh: I recently exhibited a work made in collaboration with architect Ahbimanyu Dalal titled ‘Inversion, incision, immateriality’. It was an installation of kinetic lights created within and around an inverted pyramid. It contained scripts of over a hundred languages spoken in India, including those that are defunct. The installation generated a room of multilingual words and created potential for the formation of intentional and coincidental combinations. Arabic, Brahmi, Devanagari, Bodo, Khasi, Roman and many other scripts refracted and generated new encounters of the spoken and the written. At a time that’s marked by the creation of language as a tool to determine hierarchy, this work brings our multilingual present to the fore.
H: How do you think events like the HELLO! India Art Awards serve the art world and community in their growth?
AS: Such art awards expand recognition and funding in the arts, which go a long way. The categories this year can have a positive impact on the ecosystem, and I look forward to seeing HELLO! build on this year after year, to support the vital work that people do in this space.
H: Reflecting on the past two years, how’d you say the pandemic affected you and your work?
AS: The pandemic itself was a difficult time for artists on a personal level, but spending time away from ‘work’ led us to finding a different approach. So during the lockdown in May 2020, Purvai Rai and I co-founded ACI, a space for artists and by artists, as we saw the need for them to have a mode of survival independent of the system. Initially, it was an alternative marketplace and peer-support system on Instagram. It now has over 16,800 artwork uploaded by artists for sale. Besides me, it’s run by Pranati Kapur, Radha Mahendru, Seetharam Vallabhaneni, Veerangana Solanki and I.
H: How do you think ACI has made a difference since its launch?
AS: It’s an online community for artists to receive consistent support and form global solidarities among artist communities. All of it is facilitated further by the transparency provided by digital media. Many reviewers and advisors work with us and volunteer their time to support artist practices, including architects, curators, gallerists, lawyers and writers. We share our resources, networks, information, and money earned with one another through a pay-it-forward format. We also helped with founding Art Chain Bangladesh and Art Chain Pakistan and are currently speaking with artists in Poland and Miami who are interested in starting equivalents in their regions.
H: What new areas of work are you looking into this summer?
AS: This summer, I look forward to opening a solo project at Dimensions Variable in Miami, where misael soto and I will also be creating a new iteration of ‘Provisional Obstruction’ in collaboration with people from the neighbouring communities. In between these projects Jyothidas KV, a visual artist and researcher, and I are heading to the Van Gogh House in London for a month’s residency. We will work on a series of artwork that will manoeuvre through their contextual alteration.
Photo: Abhishek Khandelwal; Creative Direction: Amber Tikari
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s June 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!