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Student Showcase Archive

Charan Singh

PhD Work

PhD work

Going Sideways: Queering Languages, Landscapes and Storytelling (as a Political Act)

In the early nineties, my mother tongue appeared to be an unused language, especially when I came to learn about HIV/AIDS. It was also a time of economic liberalisation in India, resulting in computerisation and the reformation of job markets, education, politics and art, a vertical change which was entirely conceived in English, a language which is also a dividing force between classes and the culture they inherited. This creates a parallel world, and the two almost never meet, yet where they do, some level of cross-pollination is inevitable. Growing up as a non-English speaker, I have had a very unusual relationship with language, where words shifted and adopted new meanings. At times, they appeared as a visual image rather than as words, although an unspoken hierarchy of knowledge and how it gets distributed and received, still prevailed. A quarter of a century later, the fields of HIV and sexuality have evolved immensely, although people on the ground rarely have access to this knowledge to the fullest. A knowledge that gets diluted heavily when translated. The subjects of this field rarely cross the language barrier, which actively keeps them. Nevertheless, an epiphany caused an eruption and I found myself on the other side of the door. Now, in order to understand myself I am reading histories retrospectively about the location to which I once belonged. The page-by-page reading is separating me from myself, the more I learn about it, the more I un-do myself and become an-other self. 

This project seeks to disrupt the hierarchies of languages and the knowledge that has been produced in the form of representations of underclass queer men in India. The indigenous queer identity Kothiand the global ‘behavioural category’ Men who have Sex with other Men - MSM only appeared in queer representational discourse in India after the arrival of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes. The acronym MSM was coined in the early nineties, almost at same time as the emergence of contemporary queer theory, both in the West and in India. A population which was outside the lesbian and gay framework, MSM implicitly referred to poor men of colour, throughout HIV programmes in developing countries. In India, these programmes also brought hope and the promise of a dream for equality, empowerment and access to ‘safe spaces’. However, these programmes had very limited venues for self-expression, and for numerous reasons, often one felt silenced in those spaces. 



  • Charan Singh
  • PhD


    School of Arts & Humanities


    Photography, 2015–

  • Singh’s research and practice is informed by HIV/AIDS work and community activism in India. His work revisits his 'pre-English language' life, and is looking at languages, landscapes, legitimacies, at the same time it explores the importance of storytelling and translation. He was an artist resident at the FIAR, New York, July 2017. His most recent published work is “Delhi: Communities of Belonging”, The New Press 2016; with Sunil Gupta. His latest exhibition is at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, “Dissent and Desire” (catalogue), January—April, 2018, and previously exhibited at SepiaEye, New York 2017. He earned a Magnum/Photo London award in 2016 for his portrait series “Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others”, that was also shown in “I am a Camera” at FotoFest Houston and The Photographer’s Gallery, London 2015. This series is featured in the Photoworks Annual, UK 2017. His work is in several private collections.