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Nalini Malani at the Irish Museum of Modern Art
The first solo exhibition in Europe by Nalini Malani, one of India’s most prominent artists, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 11 July 2007. Comprising paintings, wall drawings, video installations and a shadow play, the exhibition provides an overview of Malani’s career and includes new work completed in 2007. Known for her politically charged work, Malani has gained an international reputation for her multi-layered mixed-media installations. Sourced from history and culture, and mixed with Malani’s personal influences and experiences, they build up a narrative of epic proportions. Images from Palestine and Bosnia, and from the American destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are projected over Indian references, mixing universal concepts with specific historical and personal ones.
Works in the exhibition refer to female figures from both Indian and European traditions, which have been the focus of Malani’s work since the 1970s and give additional meaning to her complex layered surfaces. Included in her paintings are Alice, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Medea, the sorceress of Greek myth. The Indian figures include Sita, daughter of the Earth Mother Avni, who betrayed by her husband returns to the Earth from whence she came, and Mahadeviyakka a young girl from the 12th-century, betrothed to a rich older man, who defied her family and community, rejecting her arranged marriage by claiming to be already married to the God Shiva. Malani’s new paintings have been inspired by the poems of Muddupalani (1730–90), whose erotic poetry presents the love story of Radha and Krishna in a new light, highlighting the woman in a dominant role.
In Malani’s work these figures appear in isolation or intertwined – not necessarily in their expected contexts but in multi-layered narratives and open to interpretation. In Alice in the Map of Lohar Chawl, 2006, Alice wanders around the streets of Lohar Chawl in Bombay. In Sita/Medea, 2006, Sita and Medea are the same character and imagined as alchemists born from the earth, both betrayed by their men, de-gendered and deprived of their mothering status. All the works juxtapose different visions from the realms of memory, myth, desire and fantasy, mixing these with specific references to local and global politics, and to gender and identity issues. Malani describes the re-telling of existing stories in her work as “The story has complex functions. What one invests in the human image includes the skill to map out social destinies through the art of narration. For me history, fantasy, ritual remembrance, dream life, memory, transformation can all be melded in the crucible of the narrative”.
One particular aspect of Malani’s practice, which she calls the shadow play, takes the layering that appears in her paintings and drawings even further, almost to the point of them becoming three-dimensional animations. Remembering Mad Meg, 2007, is a shadow play specially created for IMMA. Central to the shadow installation are painted, but transparent, rotating cylinders, onto which light and images are projected to create a multi-layered work. Accompanied by music and text, they fill the room with shadows.
A five channel video installation Mother India: Transactions in the Construction of Pain, 2005, is influenced by Malani’s experiences as a refugee of the Partition of India in 1947. Stories of this time have overshadowed her life, her family were refugees from Karachi, now in Pakistan, to Bombay. Feelings of loss, exile and nostalgia are evident throughout Malani’s work. This video play reveals various parts of this tragic history and is inspired by the essay Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain, 1998, by the social scientist Veena Das.
Born in 1946, Malani trained as a painter and received her Fine Arts degree from the Sir J J School of Art, Bombay, in 1969. She has exhibited widely and has had residencies in both the US and Europe. Recent solo shows include the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, 2002-03, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, 2005-06. Her works were also included in the recent landmark international exhibitions Unpacking Europe, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 2001; Century City, 2001, and Cinema of Prayoga, 2006, Tate Modern, London; and Think with the Senses - Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense, Venice Biennale, 2007. She has also participated in the recent biennales of Istanbul, 2003, Seoul, 2004, Sharjah, 2005, and Venice, 2005. Malani lives and works in Mumbai, formerly Bombay.
The exhibition is curated by Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA.
Gallery Talk – East Wing, First Floor Galleries
The exhibition is accompanied by a substantial catalogue published by IMMA in association with Charta, Milan. It includes texts by Dr Chaitanya Sambrani, art historian, curator and Head of Art Theory at the Australian National University, Canberra; Thomas McEvilley; Enrique Juncosa; and an interview with the artist by curator and art historian Johan Pijnappel.
Nalini Malani continues until 14 October 2007. Admission is free.
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