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Nalini Malani

18 MAY - 01 JUNE 2015

Nalini Malani has established a strong international reputation as an interdisciplinary artist of sensitivity and intelligence who expands the possibility of figuration and the narrative within contemporary, historical, political and imaginary contexts. Malani is an artist dedicated to issues of personal, social, feminist and ecological justice as she stretches media and aesthetic boundaries. Her explorative investigation of female subjectivity and her profound condemnation of violence - in its insidious and mass forms - is a constant reminder of the vulnerabilities and precariousness of life and human existence. Her work exists as a temporal and corporeal confrontation of the past, present and future; and a dynamic synthesis of memory, fable, truth, myth, trauma and resistance.


Malani is a pioneer of experimental video and media art in India, in which her own visual language includes documentary images from Palestine, Bosnia, and Hiroshima, alongside references from the Indian subcontinent. She forms a coalescence that locates actual personal and public events alongside universal ideas and imaginary scenarios.


Her works are informed by astute political, literary and historical observation. With a sensitive hand and alchemic power, she manipulates drawing, video projection, digital prints, reverse painting, performance, voice, text, installation, movement, painting and sound to conjure emotional, narrative, discursive and sensual worlds. Her collaborations in performance, theatre and publishing with thinkers such as contemporary social-cultural anthropologist Dr Arjun Appadurai and theatre director Dr Anuradha Kapur are testament to her constant seeking of interdisciplinary forms to best investigate and communicate personal and political issues. Her work has been described as an act of witness-bearing to contemporary politics.


Malani explores the proto-cinematic through her painted transparent cylinders and projected ‘video/shadow plays’ while her acrylic, enamel and ink reverse paintings on acrylic and Mylar draw on folkloric Indian glass painting traditions that emerged in the state of Tanjore in the eighteenth century. In Malani’s hands, the traditional perception of reverse painting is turned up as it becomes a medium of superimposition referencing psychological and literary references within a complex pictorial surface and spatial environment. While drawing on cultural traditions such as early Italian Renaissance painting cycles, Malani’s works are frequently developed in suites and as major installation projects involving multiple projections and components.


Trained as a painter, Malani worked initially in film in the 1970s and has continued to explore the possibilities of light in complex and immersive ways. Single/multi channel works and video/shadow plays include In Search of Vanished Blood (2012), Remembering Mad Meg (2007), Unity in Diversity (2003), Transgressions (2001), Hamletmachine (2000) and Remembering Toba Tek Singh (1998). Her five-screen video-play Mother India: Transactions in the Construction of Pain (2005) furthers her interest in human subjectivity; particularly the woman in myth, body as site and the female gaze. It draws on literary references – including Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 play Mother Courage, the 1957 Hindi film Mother India, sociologist Veena Das’s 1998 essay ‘Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain’ and poet Rabindranath Tagore’s 1915 novel Ghare Baire (Home and the World) – to bring voice to hidden histories, memories, experiences and conditions born of Partition.


Nalini Malani’s website ( describes her practice as the following:


Malani's work is influenced by her experiences as a refugee of the Partition of India. She places inherited iconographies and cherished cultural stereotypes under pressure. Her point of view is unwaveringly urban and internationalist, and unsparing in its condemnation of a cynical nationalism that exploits the beliefs of the masses. Hers is an art of excess, going beyond the boundaries of legitimized narrative, exceeding the conventional and initiating dialogue.

Characteristics of her work have been the gradual movement towards new media, international collaboration and expanding dimensions of the pictorial surface into the surrounding space as ephemeral wall drawing, installation, shadow play, multi projection works and theatre.


Born in Karachi, Malani’s earliest experiences as a year-old refugee from the Partition of India in 1947 continue to inform her practice, which condemns fundamentalist thinking while honouring the potency of epics, fables and cosmologies from South Asian and European traditions. Her works draw on writers, poets and dramatists as diverse as Muddupalani (1730–90), Lewis Carroll (1832–1898) and Heiner Müller (1929–1995). Narratives and female characters from the stories of ‘Sita’, ‘Medea’, ‘Mother Courage’, ‘Cassandra’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ all appear in her work, they act as codices to ideas about gender, power, aggression and transcendence. The artist speaks about the retelling of stories in her work as follows:


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.


Malani’s deep consideration of what is possible for audiences to personally experience is paramount as she casts memorable encounters through her work; particularly through her ‘video/shadow plays’. In this way the artist has constructed a remarkable new language of imagination and form, and of phenomena and meaning for contemporary existence.



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