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.

Zarina: Paper Like Skin at the Hammer Museum

Guest Blogger Tracy Buck visits the first retrospective of artist Zarina Hashmi at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles

Los Angeles: On September 30, The Hammer Museum, located in Westwood near the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, opened the first retrospective of artist Zarina HashmiZarina: Paper Like Skin is currently on view until December 30, 2012; it then travels to the Guggenheim in New York in the early spring of 2013 and to the Art Institute of Chicago in summer 2013.  Zarina’s elegant and understated works, executed sculpturally and via the manipulation of paper, include woodcuts and etchings, paper that has been cut and pinpricked and woven, an original cut block, and bronze and tin sculpture.

Zarina, born in India in 1937, has lived in the United States since the 1970s.  The exhibition’s curator, Allegra Pesenti, worked closely with Zarina in her studio/home in New York City to select pieces that represent her large body of work dating from 1961 to the present.  Within these works – undertaken not only in her New York studio but in her various former homes in Thailand, India, Pakistan, Europe, and Japan – are quietly and poignantly woven themes of memory, displacement, movement, dislocation, and the intimate and pliable connection to homes current and remembered.

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Among her works are woodcut explorations of the trauma and loss during the India/Pakistan Partition (Dividing Line, 2001); the jagged Radcliffe Line here appears as a scar cut beyond even the otherwise contained boundaries of map and land mass.  A separate series (These Cities Blotted into the Wilderness [Adrienne Rice After Ghalib], 2003) envisions and commemorates various cities that have been bombed in recent years.  Homes I Have Made/A Life in Nine Lines, 1997 is a series of floor plans of houses and apartments throughout the world, rented and made into homes, however temporary, and now remembered.  An engagement with line, with darkness and white, with paper and its materiality and subtlety, are at the heart of these works.

Although most often associated with paper, one might consider Zarina to be an artist who works in the “medium” of Urdu as well.  In several of Zarina’s works (Letters From Home, 2004; Atlas of my World, 2001, These Cities Blotted into the Wilderness [Adrienne Rice After Ghalib], 2003; Travels with Rani, 2008, among others) the Urdu script becomes a raw material, visually manipulated, recalling both the histories of Independence and Partition of the subcontinent, as well as Zarina’s own story of her family’s move to Pakistan some years following Partition. It also recalls, to those who can read it, the ghazal tradition and its thematic weight of melancholy and loss, of separation and longing, of displacement and disconnect.

One might consider the medium of printmaking itself to work in a similar way.  The printmaking process is a series of elisions, of secrets, its final printed product a sort of masking of the intense physicality of carving a block and running a press. Unlike gestural painting, for example, that draws attention outright and purposefully to the physical effort of its production, printmaking operates via a system of reversals, removing rather than adding material to ultimately produce an image out of this void, obscuring the repetitive gouging to produce not scarred lines but rather the lack they result in, the finished product in the form of white emptiness of paper. This repetition and physicality is revealed in her pinpricked, knotted, and scarred paper works, but subtly – in slightly raised white surface and shadow on white page; they record persistence rather than proclamation.

The fact that the show was lovingly and painstakingly conceived and researched by curator Pesenti is clear in the beautiful execution of the exhibition and in its quiet and respectful design. The exhibition’s catalog, with notable essays by Pesenti and by UCLA professor of Comparative Literature Aamir Mufti, replicates this care and attention and offers further insight into the work and life of Zarina, her choice of paper as medium and her connection to, and implications of, her use of Urdu. This retrospective, a first for the artist and, it may be said, long overdue, speaks quietly but powerfully of home and memory and its various definitions and delineations, in an abstract but deeply evocative language.

Watch Zarina talk about her work and this retrospective in a conversation with the exhibition curator here.

Tracy Buck holds MA degrees in South Asian Cultures and Languages and in Museum Studies, and has worked in the Collections Management and Curatorial departments of several history and art museums.  She is currently pursing a PhD in Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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