Artist Charan Singh's first solo exhibition celebrates queer representation, culture and identity

Don’t miss your chance to catch the latest body of work from this exciting and emerging artist, and immerse yourself in a vibrant display of culture and identity.

The Art House in Wakefield is delighted to present the first major solo show by Charan Singh: The Promise of Beauty, which takes a step towards giving queer people of South Asian descent, a representation that rarely enters into queer British arts discourse.

Born in India, and now living in London, Singh’s research and practice are at large, informed by his involvement with HIV/AIDS work and community activism. His work bridges the connections between artist and its subject by investigating the themes of memory, storytelling, masculinity, and representation.

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In this thought-provoking new body of work, the artist explores the act of performing for the camera, whilst questioning the genre of self-portraiture, in a series of brand-new photographs. He focuses on reclaiming the identities of marginalised queer communities and sub-cultures in India. Examining how communities have been portrayed as victims, Singh challenges how colonial and neo-colonial narratives have influenced history and knowledge. For The Promise of Beauty, the artist uses photography, video, and sculpture to explore his ‘pre-English language’ life, creating artistic resistance through storytelling and fictional fragments to express multi-layered gender experiences and the ephemeral nature of queer desire.

Charan Singh, The Promise of Beauty, Reader, 2023Charan Singh, The Promise of Beauty, Reader, 2023
Charan Singh, The Promise of Beauty, Reader, 2023

This exhibition brings together a series of six monumental photographic self-portraits that re-examine and re-create minor figures from the Company Paintings – a hybrid style developed during the colonial period in British India, painted by both Indian and European artists, many of whom worked for European patrons.

Displayed across the main gallery walls, the 1.5-metre-high photographs aim to disrupt Euro-American versions of queerness, which remain predominantly white and upper-class. With Singh as the subject, director, and voyeur, he subverts the genre by disorienting the viewer’s gaze, who may be familiar with this style of artwork. We encounter the artist appearing and reappearing, holding the gaze of the viewer, as he performs the role of the minor figures each wearing a range of traditional garments or with parts of the body modestly exposed, to challenge the visual language which sits central to this dialogue.

By centring his own body within a world of rich visual language, colourful staging and powerful storytelling, Singh celebrates identity. The works interrupt the ‘standard’ of queerness often seen in dominant English-language culture that can overshadow indigenous expressions of gender and sexuality, and reveals a beautiful collection that intersect themes of intimacy, vulnerability, and desire.

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Singh first began working as an activist and supporting HIV/AIDS community work during the 1990s in Delhi, attempting to democratise access to information and health services through projects. A range of material from the artist’s studio, from that time, can be seen alongside his photographic works.

Charan Singh, The Promise of Beauty, Bather, 2023Charan Singh, The Promise of Beauty, Bather, 2023
Charan Singh, The Promise of Beauty, Bather, 2023

Singh has a growing international reputation, gaining widespread critical recognition for his works. His photographs have been exhibited in New Delhi, London, Houston and New York. Although he is often the one behind the camera, for The Promise of Beauty, Singh has returned to self-portraiture following a ten-year break, since first featuring himself in his 2014 series Not at Home.

The Art House Curator Emily Ryalls said: “We are delighted to be exhibiting these powerful new portraits, which will have a profound impact on confronting notions of masculinity and gender identity for many people. It has been an honour to work with such an inspirational artist, as The Art House is not only committed to supporting the practices of artists who have not yet exhibited a solo show in the UK, but also committed to promoting meaningful and pioneering work”.

You can also the collaborative project Lovers Revisited by Charan Singh and his husband, and artist Sunil Gupta at The Art House, which celebrates 40 years since Gupta first began his important project, ‘Lovers: Ten Years On’

The Art House, Drury Lane, Wakefield, WF1 1TE. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 09.30-16.00.Free entry! For more details visit the-arthouse.org.uk

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