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Charan Singh

Charan Singh, Untitled, from the series Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others, India, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and sepia EYE, New York.

Do I Know You?, 2015
Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others, 2013-2015

Do I Know You? originated as a series of photographs reenacting scenes from a real-life relationship between two men and its tragic end. As a spectator of this relationship, I was stunned, and had no words to describe the friends’ affection and compassion for each other. In trying to understand the loss of his friend, he was asked himself, “why do we have to hide ourselves?” and I asked myself, “how many more lives will remain unaccounted?”

Kothis (effeminate, underprivileged, homosexual men), Hijras (eunuchs), Giriyas (partners of kothis and hijras) are indigenous terms used by queer working class and transgendered men, in their own dialect, to define their different and particular sexual identities.

I made these portraits because this sub-culture is rarely seen outside of its HIV/AIDS victim narratives. The photographs give the subjects an importance which contradicts the popular image of people from these social backgrounds. They also challenge the supremacy of images of the more middle and upper caste/class person from India that we are normally used to seeing in the history of photography.

The work also interrogates their gendered and sexual life as a whole, covering a range of emotions, anxieties, concerns, dilemmas and dreams to depart from the narrow medical discourse within which they are bound.

When I look at the history of Indian photography, I am overwhelmed by portraits of princely India and the prevailing exoticism around them; these portraits were about class, caste and colonial hierarchies. When I make photographs I want to make something queer but also want to challenge these stereotypes about photography about India. Many of my subjects have never had a studio portrait made in their lifetime. Therefore, I attempted to create a space where people could feel comfortable regardless of their class, caste, identity, gender, sexuality, performance; these are individual human beings each with their own nuances.

Charan Singh


Born in 1978, Charan Singh lives and works in New Delhi and London. He is currently a PhD candidate in Photography at the Royal College of Art, London. Singh’s photographic practice is informed by his 13 years of HIV/AIDS work and community activism in India, along with a formal study of the history of art and photography. He is interested in the representation of desires, identities, gender, sexuality, relationships, loss, trauma and recovery. Simultaneously, he questions notions of the genre of self-portraiture, however the principal common thread of his works are memory, story telling, and masculinity His work has been exhibited recently at Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2014) and The Photographers Gallery, London (2015). Singh is represented by sepia EYE,
New York.

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