Malani’s oeuvre has long since explored the aftermath that the India- Pakistan partition has had on individual sensibilities. Herself, a refugee of the partition, through her work Malani denounces the rampant violence against women, which proliferated during the partition time. Though her characters are often derived from myths, the language she incorporates and the stories she tells are contemporary.
The mythical characters of Cassandra, Medea, Sita and Alice play a recurrent role in Malani’s work. She borrows the Greek tragic character of Medea and contemporizes it so as to infuse her own personal history into it. Through the character of Medea, she links the exploitation of women to the history of colonialism, where in Medea represents the colonized and her husband Jason represents the colonizer.
In a similar manner, Malani also manages to retell the tragedy of Cassandra- who was cursed by Apollo and lost her power of persuasion despite being able to prophesize accurately. Cassandra stands as a metaphor for the stifling of the female voice by male dominated society. This myth is at the core of many of the works featured at the exhibition.
The work ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’, first created for the Documenta at Kassel in 2012, has five painted, rotating Mylar cylinders, which project shadows on the wall. These cylinders are superimposed with projections from six video sources. The poem translated by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, which gives the work its title, can be heard recited by the artist in the background and imparts the work an imposing acoustic dimension. This work seeks to examine the social structure of the women in India, through the metaphor of different female characters from myths.
Even though she explores traditional morality plays, her work gravitates towards using an excessively new media, which imparts her work with a modern voice. Her work spills out of the pictorial surface so as to cover surrounding space by the inclusion of walls drawings, installations, shadow play, multi projection work and theatre.
The symposium has been conceptualized by Geeta Kapur and focuses on dOCUMENTA (13) (June – September 2012). Speakers are invited to address the curatorial concept of this edition. And to address, as well, a peculiar call on dOCUMENTA curators to offer, in the very form of the exhibition, a virtual world-view.
In the second part of the symposium, there will be a discussion on Biennales that are placed within more precarious circumstances. The risks and gains of working with a meager infrastructure, social taboos, uncharted aesthetics, will be brought forward. A substantial debate on the newest, most proximate Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 2012 – March 2013) is expected. Participants will be invited to discuss, for instance, how this Biennale offered ‘site imaginaries’ in lieu of a predetermined concept; and an exhibitory poetics largely activated by participating artists. Also the role of the State (with reference to India) in supporting large-scale, audience-friendly and ground-breaking exhibition projects such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale will be put up for scrutiny.
Friday, April 19 2013, 11.00 am – 5.30 pm
Auditorium, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Session I (11 am to 1 pm)
Chair: Kavita Singh: Introduction and Sum-up
Referring to earlier editions, but focusing on dOCUMENTA (13) (June – September 2012), speakers are invited to address the curatorial concept of this edition; and to address, as well, a peculiar call on dOCUMENTA curators to offer, in the very form of the exhibition, a virtual world-view.
• Geeta Kapur: dOCUMENTA aesthetics in the 21st century
• Vidya Shivdas: Brief introduction to the dOCUMENTA project
• Panel: Jeebesh Bagchi, Sonia Khurana, Shuddhabrata Sengupta
Session II (1.45 pm to 3.15 pm)
Chair: Pooja Sood: Introduction and Sum-up
Ideological Readings: from Documenta to Sharjah
A reflection on Biennales placed within newer, more precarious circumstances; the risks and gains of working through untested locations, meager infrastructures, social taboos, uncharted aesthetics.
• Amar Kanwar
• Ravi Agarwal
Session III (3.30 pm to 5.30 pm)
Chair: Geeta Kapur
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012-2013
More than a ‘debate’ or even a measure of success and failure, understanding the conditions of production of the newest, most proximate Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 2012 – March 2013) is important. Once staged, what are the meanings that accrue from the democratic mix of international and local viewers; with diverse spectatorship, is there a better case for state support of contemporary art? Can publics in relation to large-scale, ground-breaking projects (such as this), incite the art community into a discursive engagement with avantgarde art as a form of contextual combustion?
• Riyas Komu: ‘Against All Odds’; a presentation on the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (with visual documentation)
• Panel: Vivan Sundaram, Sheela Gowda, Subodh Gupta, Gayatri Sinha, Sheba Chhachhi
• Summing Up: Parul Dave Mukherji
As a curator new to Mumbai, I found the metropolis thriving, fascinating—and sometimes maddening. There is a tight-knit contemporary art community in the city that has become accustomed to international curators swooping in and out like the ubiquitous Bombay crows. They flit around the city, alighting briefly to snap up morsels of sustenance. Yet no bird’s-eye view, colleague’s description, or online research could substitute for sustained experience on the ground. I arrived in India for a sabbatical of sorts in September 2010, and my method of acclimating was to call as many artists as possible right away, to find out what they were up to and who was most interesting. Within about six months, I had founded a contemporary art exhibition space known as the Mumbai Art Room, a small nonprofit that provides a platform for artistic experimentation.
My first impression of the Bombay art scene was simplistic. I observed an abiding preference for painting and sculpture, built on a solid foundation of local modernism that was established in the late 1960s and early ’70s. But looking closer, I realized that performance, photography, video, and social practice were also quite healthy in a communal atmosphere characterized by mutual respect, open discourse, and experimentation. Performance art, it seems to me, is particularly strong; there is a lot brewing, and the vibe is infectiously positive. A couple of caveats, however: both public and private funding for the arts is grossly inadequate, and right-wing Hindu extremism is a constant potential source of swift censorship and draconian repression.
Tejal Shah, still from Between the Waves, 2012. Five-channel color and black-and-white video installation with sound, 85 minutes. Image courtesy: The Guggenheim New York
One of the two artworks I want to discuss here, though made in India, would likely be shut down in a heartbeat if it were shown in public in Mumbai. It is a 2012 video installation by Mumbai artist Tejal Shah, who self-identifies as multidisciplinary, feminist, queer, and political. Titled Between the Waves, this multi-channel work was exhibited at Documenta 13 and features Shah and others as fictitious creatures—“humanimals”—cavorting and engaging in various activities, some of them explicitly erotic. It is a strange, beautiful, and imaginative work, but also one that pushes uncomfortably at the boundaries of societal expectations around transgender identity, sexuality, and narrative form. Between the Waves garnered a decidedly mixed critical response, and Shah herself has described the work as “awkward” and “unbounded.” Shah is a bold and innovative artist, yet she is also vulnerable and in need of critical affirmation at a time when, mid-career, she cannot expect broad local support.
Tushar Joag, Hypohydro Hyperhighrise, 2011. Public performance. Image courtesy: The Guggenheim, New York
The second artist I want to spotlight, Tushar Joag, has little in common with Shah except for a use of innovative performative methods to address politically charged subject matter. Joag again and again probes the problematic and inequitable development of land in Mumbai in particular, and in India in general. He cannot stomach the greed, unfair distribution of basic resources, and resulting displacements of disenfranchised citizens. In Hypohydro Hyperhighrise, 2011, for example, a project that was commissioned as a part of a series of public art interventions throughout Mumbai, he presents a simultaneously entertaining and incisive scenario. For this work, Joag hired a troupe of boys and young men to form a 20-foot-tall human pyramid and water fountain. The pyramid component of this acrobatic stunt referenced a familiar annual religious tradition celebrating the Hindu god Krishna. Joag cleverly repurposed the action to refer instead to inadequate planning around the skyscraper apartment buildings that have sprouted throughout this densely populated city, and the water shortages that have resulted from it. The message was dead serious, while the atmosphere was quasi-carnivalesque. Curious crowds gathered wherever the work was performed.
All over this country, one bumps into street processions, public acts of political activism, folk performances, and religious rituals. Within the more circumscribed field of contemporary art, performance has been nurtured for over a decade by KHOJ International Artists’ Association in New Delhi, and more recently by Mohile Parikh Center and Art Oxygen in Mumbai. Even when new works are too sensitive to present locally, they still manage to resonate in the international art scene. Myriad forms of public expression, action, and acting out are very much a part of this culture’s DNA—in the world’s largest democratic country, they simply cannot be suppressed.
Kassel: On view at the latest installment of dOCUMENTA is a video installation by artist Bani Abidi. The project titled ‘Death at a 30 Degree Angle’ was commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and will be on display in Kassel until September 16, 2012.
The installation is a film broken up into three separate projections being screened on planks resting against the wall. Set in India, it is a fictional account of a politician who has commissioned a statue of himself but is unable to settle on the right costume to ‘represent’ himself. Abidi’s project is inspired by the book, ‘The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat’ by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński, about the decline of the Emperor of Ethiopia – Haile Selassie. The dominant themes in this work work are those of megalomania and the obsession with posterity.
Born in Karachi, Bani Abidi went to study in Lahore and later in Chicago. Initially practicing as an installation artist, it was her time in Chicago and exposure to film that inspired her to shift to video art. In an interesting interview with the National Gallery of Victoria, Abidi talks about the significance of her cultural location in her artistic practice.
New York:The 13th edition of dOCUMENTA opened last month, and will be on view for its characteristic 100 days until September 16, 2012. Documenta is considered by many to be the mother of all international exhibitions, including the popular biennales and the triennials. It is a display of premium contemporary art that draws thousands of art lovers to the small German city of Kassel, some 120 miles north east of Frankfurt, every five years. Earlier in June, we shared details of a talk hosted by the Courtauld Institute of Art about the contemporary South Asian artists being featured in the exhibition this year. Documenta’s list of participating artists is usually a huge hush-hush affair with the names not being released until the day of the exhibition opening. However this time around, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung managed to get their hands on this guarded list and published it in mid May.
A significant feature in this year’s exhibition is Nalini Malani’s In Search of Vanished Blood. Documenta customarily gives its artists at least two years to conceive and produce their projects, and the works are often cerebral, complex and large scale. This work is a colossal site-specific installation of the artist’s signature projections of light through revolving acrylic cylinders bearing painted imagery. As the cylinders spin, the images move on the walls, crossing one another in what Malani refers to as a shadow play. Issues of gender, feminism, and displacement are pervasive themes for the artist. Representations of early female archetypes, from Hindu figures like Radha, Draupadi and Sita, to such Western icons as Medea and Alice are recurrent references in her work. This latest workis inspired by Christa Wolf’s German novel, Cassandra, and Draupadi by Indian social activist and writer, Mahasweta Devi. It is a thought provoking commentary on gender, communal violence and religious fundamentalism. Watch the video for a glimpse of the work.
Malani is one of three international artists to be invited by Documenta to create an artist’s book. Titled after the work, In Search of Vanished Blood, this book includes texts by the Documenta 13 artistic director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, New York based contemporary social-cultural anthropologist of Indian origin, Arjun Appadurai, and stills from a film on the making of this work by Payal Kapadia. A haunting trailer of the film is available for viewing on Malani’s website. Documenta as an exhibit is known to engage not just visual and performing artists but also philosophers, quantum physicists and social anthropologists. Malani has also joined Appadurai to create a collaborative work for Documenta (13)’s publication series, 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts.Read more about this project.
Malani is currently exhibiting in 3 more expositions around the world including the Singapore Art Museum where her video play HAMLETMACHINE is on view in a group exhibition, Panorama: Recent Art from Contemporary Asia featuring 24 artists from 8 Asian countries. Read more. Other participations include ALICE in the Wonderland of Artat the Kunsthalle Hamburg (20 June – 30 September 2012) and INDIA – LADO A LADO [India – Side by Side], a traveling exhibition conceived for the Centro Cultural Banco do Brazil (22 May to 29 July, 2012). Read more.