An art historian, writer and academic, Kavita Singh specialises in the history of Indian painting, particularly the role played by colonial and religious institutions in shaping Indian art. Her research interests include manuscript painting traditions in India, the history of museums in South Asia, and the repatriation of cultural artefacts. She is closely associated with the School of Arts and Aesthetics (SAA) at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where she has taught since it was founded in 2001.
Singh obtained a BA in English literature from Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi, in 1985 and an MFA in Art History from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara in 1987. She completed her PhD in art history at Panjab University, Chandigarh in 1996. She was a visiting lecturer at the College of Art, New Delhi between 1989 and 1991, and taught at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi from 1991 to 1997. She was a research editor at Marg Publications from 2000 to 2001. In 2001, she joined the SAA as an associate professor. She was appointed as its dean in 2017 and held the position for two years. In 2020, she joined the board of trustees at the J Paul Getty Trust.
In 2016, Singh, along with other professors at JNU, criticised the policies of JNU’s then-Vice Chancellor, M Jagadesh Kumar, following his appointment in January. A major instance of backlash against her from the administration occurred in March, 2018, when she was removed from her position as dean of the SAA on grounds of insubordination. This occurred after her criticism of a policy instituted in the previous year, which mandated 75% attendance for students, with strict penalties for both students and teachers. A professor of linguistics, Mazhar Asif, was appointed as her replacement, but was boycotted by students of the SAA. Following an order from the Delhi High Court, Singh was reinstated as Dean in April of 2018, a position she occupied until 2019, following which she was replaced by Naman P Ahuja.
Singh has authored and co-authored multiple books and monographs on Indian art, such as New Insights Into Sikh Art (2003); InFlux: Contemporary Art in Asia (2013); No Touching, No Spitting, No Praying: The Museum in South Asia (2014); Museums, Heritage, Culture: Into the Conflict Zone (2015); and Scent Upon A Southern Breeze: The Synaesthetic Arts of the Deccan (2018), to name a few. She has also received several awards for her work, including a Research Fellowship from the University Grants Commission at Panjab University between 1989 and 1994; two Small Studies grants from the Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections at the V&A in 1993; a residency at the Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence, Italy in 2006; a fellowship at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in 2009; the Clark-Oakley Fellowship from Williams College and Clark Art Institute, USA, between 2015 and 2016; and most recently, the prize for Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities from the Infosys Science Foundation in 2019.
Singh passed away in 2023 in New Delhi.
Our website is currently undergoing maintenance and re-design, due to which we have had to take down some of our bibliographies. While these will be re-published shortly, you can request references for specific articles by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.