Jitish Kallat: Overturning Expectations Through Artistic Dynamism

Ipshita Sen of Saffronart shares a note on Jitish Kallat’s recent work

New York: If there were one versatile and imaginative contemporary Indian artist, who, through his art evoked spiraling chains of thought and overturned expectations, it would be Jitish Kallat. Topping Artprice.com’s list of prominent contemporary Indian artists, he is definitely one of the most dynamic artists you will read about.

His works cover a vast array of genres and themes: from exploring the socio-economic and political circumstances of his city, Mumbai, in a manner that brings out the liveliness and exuberance of the city instead of the sunken reality, to addressing issues of peace and tolerance post the 9/11 terror attacks. Some works will take you back in time, reviving a past with contemporary lessons, whereas others will makes you question our being and the different aspects of life.

Kallat is an artist who has grown tremendously over the last decade, establishing himself not only nationally, but making a substantial impact in the international art market as well, leaving behind a trail of his exciting aesthetic creations. He has had his works exhibited in major museums such as the Tate Modern in London and the ZKM Museum in Karlsruhe in addition to having his works held in collections like those of the Saatchi Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

His Public Notice series of works (2003-2010) takes three important moments in Indian history, with an international holding and impact, and reinforces their existence and significance in today’s times. These are large scale installations, comprising the text of speeches delivered by three prominent personalities in Indian history: India’s first prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, delivering his freedom speech on 15 August 1947, Mahatma Gandhi’s speech in 1930 on the eve of his historic Dandi March during India’s struggle for independence from the British empire, and lastly Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, 1893.

Jitish Kallat, Public Notice,  Art Institute of Chicago

Jitish Kallat, Public Notice, Art Institute of Chicago. Image Credit: http://www.artic.edu/aic/resources/resource/1150?search_id=1

Of the three, the most well known is Public Notice 3, shown at the Art Institute of Chicago. This installation converted the speech’s text into LED displays on each of the 118 risers of the main stairway at the Art Institute. This installation aims to connect two great historical periods – the first World Parliament of Religions, which took place on September 11, 1893, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Centre, both happening on the same date, 108 years apart. Vivekananda’s landmark speech at the Parliament addressed issues of fanaticism and encouraged universal tolerance and respectful recognition of different faiths and traditions, concepts as relevant 108 years later.

This installation, of course, represented the interesting chasm between the underlying message of tolerance in the speech and the conflicting events of the September 11 terror attacks. Through this installation, Kallat not only addresses the intriguing juxtaposition between the two significant events in history, but also sheds light on the immense contemporary significance of a historical event that was forgotten with the passage of time.

Jitish Kallat at Art Basel Hong Kong

Jitish Kallat at Art Basel Hong Kong. Image Credit: http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2013/07/10/jitish-kallats-corridors-of-suspicion/

The artist’s recent projects have been equally enticing and rich in concept and technique. He is working towards installing a massive sculpture, 60 feet long and 26 feet high in lower Austria. The sculpture as he calls it is “ an endless loop in the open landscape”. It involves the recreation of the typical blue highway signage and its conversion into a huge ribbon in the air. The ribbon displays information about travel distances from Austria to different parts of India and the Far East.

Kallat also has an upcoming solo exhibition this September at Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, which explores the concepts of “time, sustenance, laughter, suspicion and sleep.” The show will involve a good mix of works. He notes, “One video piece called “Breath” shows seven rotis. There are seven lunar cycles where each roti slowly grows from dust, starts becoming a crescent moon, then a full moon, and then returns to dust. There is another sculpture of a Lilliputian world of small figures paired. Each figure is seen frisking the other one. All of these pairs come from found photographs of security checks at airports, rock concerts and entrances to nightclubs. It’s like a small corridor of suspicion. There is also series of paintings that come from laughter clubs”.

Kallat makes art with a powerful purpose. Whether it might be reviving elements of a lost history, emphasizing the richness of Indian cultures and traditions, or making visible the beauty underlying the simple aspects of everyday life.

He says about the origins of his artistic creations: “All of these works have been questions I ask myself. How do I manifest my experience of the world I inhabit in forms that I find? Everyone carries a world inside themselves; it’s when their world interacts with mine that the work of art actually happens. Until then I just make a dormant piece of something that’s made of atoms and molecules”

 For more information on Public Notice 3 you can click here.

Jitish Kallat studied painting at the J.J. School of Art in Mumbai. He lives and works in Mumbai, India.

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