Professor Kavita Singh 1964-2023

The NTICVA records with great sadness the premature death of Professor Kavita Singh, an alumna of our Grant and Fellowship programmes, a former Trustee ofour Trust and one of India’s best recognised and most influential art historians. 


In 1993-4 Kavita, then a bright young PhD student, working under Professor B N Goswamy on Indian manuscript painting and folk painting, applied forand was awarded both UK and India small study grants. She made excellent use of these grants, and in 1996 re-applied, this time for a UK Visiting Fellowship. Her new project addressed “the historiography of the Indian Collection at the V&A, including the methods, agendas (& accidents) that shaped the changing role of the museum and its agency in transporting `objects' and `art'. Once at the V&A she made excellent use of her time and started one of the key strands of her research, teaching, international collaboration, and writing – the exploration of museological phenomena in and relating to South Asia. This led to many lectures, research projects and several major edited volumes, including the influential books No Touching, No Spitting, No Praying: The Museum in South Asia (2014) she co-edited with Saloni Mathur and Museums, Heritage, Culture: Into the Conflict Zone (2015, co-ed with .) 


After an early career at the College of Art, Delhi, the National Institute of Technology in Delhi, with the journal Marg Publications, and as visiting guest curator in San Diego, she had been appointed in 2001 to the faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University, where she was a co-founder of the School of Arts and Aesthetics.At JNU she inspired generations of younger scholars to embrace art history, building the department alongside other colleagues, evolving a strong relationship with organisations across the world, including the Getty Trust, with whose international networking programmes she engaged very actively. At the same time, she continued to curate and reach out to wider audiences. Her impact on the discipline was recognised both nationally – when awarded the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2018 – and internationally when she became an Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020,one of 37 foreign inductees that year, and the only one from India in the field of Arts and Humanities. 


But it is the way her human qualities informed her scholarship and work with colleagues and students that will most be remembered by those who had the privilege of knowing her. Kavita brought a passion and energy to all she did, a warmth and keen sense of enjoyment in the arts and in the people that created and appreciated them, a passion that persisted despite many pressures and obstacles. She retained this outgoing attitude and engaged energy to the very end, despite her illness, giving of herself with an honesty and integrity that should inspire us all. She is much missed.