Early in 2017, the Stedelijk Museum will show the exhibition Nalini Malani: Transgressions. The heart of the exhibition is the installation Transgressions, a unique combination of painting, video, and moving shadows that Malani terms “video/shadow play.” In collaboration with Malani, several additional works have been selected to be shown. These works provide a contextualization of the themes and variety of literary and classical sources brought into play in Transgressions.
Nalini Malani (1946, Karachi) is an artist who combines a variety of mediums in a unique way in order to cast attention towards political engagement. As a refugee herself during the separation of India and Pakistan, her work is permeated by themes such as migration, globalisation, poverty, and the oppression of women. These topical issues are often combined in Malani’s work with motifs from classical literature and mythology.
The heart of this exhibition is the installation Transgressions, a unique combination of painting, video, and moving shadows, termed by Malani as ‘video/shadow play.’ The work is created out of four cylinders of Mylar plastic which were painted by the artist from the inside (the so-called ‘reverse painting’ technique). Moving slowly at a rate of four rotations per minute, the cylinders are traversed by three video projections on the wall.
Transgressions is rich in storylines. The exotic-looking video projections start by showing the skin of a Caucasian person, upon which the shadows of the Mylar paintings form a game of moving tattoos which transform into colorful segments of Bollywood movies and a rain of the exhaustive diversity of Indian languages which are gradually disappearing due to the lack of attention they are given in Indian schools. On the cylinders themselves are Kalighat-style paintings, featuring, for instance, a Western hunter on an elephant, the female deity Durga, and two boxing figures representing Pakistan and India, entangled in an eternal battle.
The recorded text, in which the impact of globalization is of central importance, features a recurring female voice saying: "I speak orange, I speak blue (which refers to the advancing mobile phone sector in India, in which ‘Orange’ was the market leader in mobile telephony at the time when this artwork was created and it had propagated its services for an amount equivalent to the Indian cheapest street snacks). In addition, a child's voice is asking her mother if she can please attend 'English School.’ With this aspect Malani addresses the notion that without proper command of the English language, it is not possible to succeed in the society of the future.
For the purpose of the exhibition and in collaboration with Malani, a selection of additional works were chosen which feature diverse themes and references to the literary and classical sources seen in Transgressions. Moreover, the range of her extraordinary multimedia practices are traced, from her films of the 1960s and 70s, video and theatre pieces from the 1990s to her ‘reverse paintings’ and artists books from the period 1991-2016.
An important part of the exhibition will be a wall drawing created by Malani in the week prior to the opening. Wall drawings are of late a topical medium, especially among a new generation of artists from both India and the West. For Malani, it has been an important medium since 1991 in order to confront the audience with artistic forms outside the boundaries of painting and to instead immerse them into her world. They represent therefore a first step in the development of the later immersive shadow installations. Malani’s mural in the Stedelijk Museum will combine a critical portrayal of the current migration crisis with her fascination for literary and mythological motifs in which women play an important role (including but not limited to Medea, Cassandra and Sita). On the last day of the exhibition, the wall drawing will disappear via Erasure Performance, an event in which the erasure of the drawing will be performed by a to-be-determined group.
Malani’s work has been frequently discussed by theorists such as Andreas Huyssen and Claudia Bentien. However, a very important departure point for this exhibition is the extensive publication In Medias Res, Inside Nalini Malani’s Shadow Plays (Hatje Catz, 2016), by Mieke Bal, Professor of Literary Studies, in which an entire chapter is dedicated to Transgressions.
Malani’s work is shown increasingly worldwide. In 2016, she had a solo exhibition at the ICA Boston (June 29-October 16, 2016) (for which Bal’s publication functioned as a catalogue). In late 2017, the Centre Pompidou in Paris will host a retrospective of Malani’s work, which will thereafter travel to the Castello di Rivoli in Turin.