Indian artist Nalini Malani has become an important presence in south Asia, and is something of a pioneer in the patriarchal art world of her homeland. Drawing on ancient myths and literature, she brings them to life through a complex union of shadowplay, painting, video projections and a host of other media. Her artwork examines and observes how society progresses and regresses again and again over time, and it becomes a conduit for conversations, her creations drawing people in through their beauty and then engaging them in dialogues about politics, oppression, war and destruction.
Having worked as an artist for more than 40 years, Malani is no newcomer, but her techniques are constantly evolving and pushing boundaries. In 2013, she was recognised for this, becoming the first female Asian artist to be awarded the Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize in contemporary art.
One of her most ambitious pieces, In Search of Vanished Blood, which took
a year and a half to create, won much acclaim at the prestigious dOCUMENTA (13) exhibition in Kassel, Germany in 2012. It examines violence against women, expressed by 360-degree video projections that pierce five delicately painted Mylar cylinders spinning like prayer wheels. Shadows flicker on the surrounding walls and intertwine with music and narration. “I reject all the sperm I have received,” says the ominous voiceover of the mythical Cassandra. “I turn the milk of my breasts into poison, I take back the world I gave birth to, I bury it in my womb.”
“It is like a proscenium-arch theatre piece – with performers, text and
sound effects,” says Malani.
Malani admits that the Indian community might be more tuned in to her specific cultural references, but argues that her work translates into an international dialogue.
“If I say to somebody in India the word ‘Sita’, the person immediately knows what character I may be talking about,” she says. “It is about transmitting an emotion that I have felt deeply. Even if the entire context may not get communicated due to the visitors coming from assorted cultures, the tone
and timbre does. In fact,” she adds, “I have had people come out of my space
in dOCUMENTA in tears.”
For more information about Nalini Malani, visit nalinimalani.com, and search YouTube to see a video of In Search of Vanished Blood at dOCUMENTA (13).