CHAMPION (2015-ongoing)

My practice is influenced by the exploration of alternative narratives of feminine strength within India’s patriarchal constructs. The north-central Indian states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have some of highest rates of female infanticide in the world. In the heartland of this violence reside government-run sports training camps where young girls are determined to change their destiny.

What fascinated me was the stark contradiction within the locale – both states have some of the worst gender-related statistics and yet some of the top elite female athletes come here to train. Champion is an on-going series I began seven years ago, looking at the intersection of gender and femininity with sports and nation-building, a typically male dominated space. The project has developed as a series of sculptural images of female athletes in their specific sporting milieus, celebrating strength and vulnerability.

My time at the camps brought up stirring conversations on empowerment. The girls shared what motivated them – the dream of winning a medal for the country on an international stage; to be the next Indian champion. This was a moving affirmation in a country where women are judged on marriageability and derided for harbouring ambition.
Often photographing the athletes as introspective portraits opened up the images to reflect their monumental journeys. These images of bodies trained for strength and ambition, are a powerful counter to institutionalized patriarchy and the hyper-masculinity that leaves no space for depictions beyond the prescribed ideas of femininity. Champion is a testament to the aspiration and rigor of their daily labor, above all — their capacity to live with a body that society may not necessarily affirm.

Prarthna Singh

Singh’s work explores female identity in contemporary India, within the intersection of gender and nation. Particularly drawn to stories that stand at the conflux of radical vulnerability and power; her images highlight India’s transition and contrast while exploring a dual dichotomy between feminine identity and strength. These female narratives are constructed within India’s own traditions, poised between fragility and abundance. After completing her BFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design, Singh lived and worked in New York. Returning to India was a deliberate decision, she is currently based out of Bombay.

Working across digital, film and video, Singh’s images have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, FT Weekend, Monocle, The Economist, The Sunday Guardian, Wallpaper City Guide, Architectural Digest and CNN. Her clients include Nike, Uniqlo, Airbnb, Fila, LinkedIn, Wellcome Trust, Tata, Old Spice, Indigo Airlines and Levis. Her book Sār: The Essence Of Indian Design was published by Phaidon press.