An artist and photographer best known for his conceptual work, Diwan Manna is currently the President (Honorary) of Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi, a position he has held since 2016.
Manna was born in 1958 in Bareta, Punjab. He attended the Government College of Art in Chandigarh and graduated with specialisation in graphic art and printmaking in 1982. Also interested in theatre, Manna was active in the collegiate theatre scene, participating in workshops held by Badal Sircar, an experience which taught him how to stage and plan his photographs.
He uses paintings and live models, and at times juxtaposes his photographs with them, to create compositions that have been understood as conceptual photography. He seeks to establish a harmony between different forms by an amalgamation of photography, painting, acting and body art. His work deals with themes of violence and brutalisation, reflecting on cultural inheritance, political strife and crises of alienation, social inequality, class politics and dehumanisation. In his series, Alienation (1980), his photographs of office peons reflect their life of isolation and servitude. In another series, Violence (1985), Manna shifts the attention from gore and instead presents an image of resilience and fortitude through his depiction of women. Made in the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, these paintings capture the violence in its insidious avatar and were instrumental in catapulting him to fame. He returns to the theme of labour, drudgery and exploitation in Dhabha (1987) which focuses on the lives of daily wage workers at the local dhabas. In works such as Shores of the Unknown (2000) and After the Turmoil (2003), he stages the body in phases of liminality, creating a poetic movement between the body and its environment. He has also photographed the modernist architecture and cityscape of Chandigarh in his series Master of Light: Le Corbusier (2006) and Corridors of Power (2006).
In addition to his art practice, he has held several institutional positions. He was the Chairperson (Honorary) of the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi from 2008–15 and served as the director of Triennale India, organised by Lalit Kala Akademi during 2014–15.
Since 1986, his work has been exhibited internationally in France, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Germany, Italy and Poland. His work has also received several awards including National Academy Award by Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi (1996), All India Photography Award by AIFACS (1995 and 1996) and Photo Artist of the Year by Federation of Indian Photography (1998). His work forms part of permanent collections at institutions including Museum of Asian Art (Berlin), Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Saint-Étienne), Shropshire County Council, Chandigarh Museum and Art Gallery and Governor House (Chandigarh), among others.
At the time of writing, Manna lives and works in Chandigarh.
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