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Zakir Hussain Maquette: Reviewed by Zach Stieneker

Book Review Zakir Hussain Maquette Photographs by Dayanita Singh Reviewed by Zach Stieneker The book is well known as Dayanita Singh’s primary medium, one she explores to create new relationships between photography, publishing, the exhibition and the museum. But where did her passion for the book as the ideal vessel for her photos, for the stories she tells, begin? The answer lies in Zakir Hussain, a handmade maquette Singh crafted in 1986 as her first project as a graphic design student.

Zakir Hussain Maquette. By Dayanita Singh.
Zakir Hussain Maquette  
Photographs by Dayanita Singh

Steidl, Gottingen, Germany, 2020. In English. 
88 pp., 94 illustrations, 8¼x9½".

“When you come to watch an Indian music concert, you come to watch a beautiful thing being created,” observes Zakir Hussain. “Sometimes you are a part of it, sometimes you are not. You enjoy the rapport, how well two people come together. How beautifully they can connect.”

In much the same way, viewing Dayanita Singh’s Zakir Hussain Maquette is to see a beautiful thing being created. As a facsimile of the artist’s original maquette, replete with penciled notes and residual glue stains, the book is presented not as a static, polished product but, rather, an artwork in the process of becoming. It is a gift that emerges from the connection between two people: Hussain, the tabla virtuoso, and Singh, a young graphic design student, poised to begin an influential and highly innovative career working in the medium of the photobook.

Zakir Hussain MaquetteBy Dayanita Singh.

In this edition of the maquette, the scanned prototype is packaged alongside a foldout poster and a reader with conversations and images of Singh’s notebooks. Collectively, these materials invite readers to engage with the book while circulating between two modes of attention: first, attention to the process of the book’s construction, and second, attention to the character study of Zakir Hussain.

Zakir Hussain MaquetteBy Dayanita Singh.
With regard to this first mode, Steidl remarks that “from the beginning [he] saw the maquette as a tool for people who are curious about how books come into being.” To that end, it begins and ends with annotated contact sheets. Faint outlines around the images give the impression of three-dimensionality — evince the original maquette’s handmade construction. Glue stains and smudges give the paper a worn quality, obscuring its newness. The images are surrounded by scrawled notes and contact sheet numbers, often scratched out and revised, rendering the history of Singh’s decision making legible. That the result we view is one out of many considered alternatives is true of any photobook, but here this idea is foregrounded. Singh’s notebooks explicitly elucidate her approaches to each aspect of the book’s design. These explanations are granular — we even learn about her choice of font size.

Singh’s photographs are dynamic, and the testimonials gathered from Hussain, along with a variety of people in his orbit, create a compelling portrait of an artist who, by his own admission, is inseparable from his art.

Zakir Hussain MaquetteBy Dayanita Singh.

Shanay Jhaveri’s included essay, “Finding Form,” explains how Singh’s instinctual approach in crafting the book’s layout emulates the improvisational character of tabla playing, meaning that Singh’s construction of the book can be seen as a search for spatial rhythm. Further, this resonance provides a link between the book’s design and its content: Zakir Hussain. Jhaveri writes that in the maquette “there is no story or plot –– simply the privilege of being with Hussain.”

At this stage of Singh’s career –– one marked by an expansive vision of what the photobook can be –– Zakir Hussain Maquette can be revisited as a singular glimpse into a mind that, as Singh expresses it, “think[s] in the book.” Contextualized as a precursor to her later “book objects”, the maquette becomes a study in origin. It’s also a guidebook, but it’s absent of didacticism, descriptive rather than prescriptive, and so, like an Indian music concert, sometimes you are part of it, and sometimes you are not. Either way, it’s an affirmation of creative potential, and it’s a beautiful thing.

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Zakir Hussain MaquetteBy Dayanita Singh.
Zakir Hussain MaquetteBy Dayanita Singh.

Zach Stieneker holds a BA in English and Spanish from Emory University. Following graduation, he spent several months continuing his study of photography in Buenos Aires, Argentina.