My first article with Art Radar Asia

I recently completed an Art Writing and Journalism course with Art Radar Asia.( It was a fabulous experience. My supervisor Kate N. was always available for constructive guidance and motivation (and lending a sympathetic, friendly ear). Very positive experience, highly recommended.

The course ended with a published article! Here is mine:

Nalini Malani visualises the influence of globalisation on India – Asia Society video interview
Prominent artist Nalini Malani uses language to illustrate the Westernisation of India in a single-work exhibition.

Nalini Malani, ‘Transgressions II’ (installation view), 2009, three channel video/shadow play, acrylic reverse painting on four Mylar Cylinders, 07m:00s looped. Image courtesy of the artist.

Nalini Malani, ‘Transgressions II’ (installation view), 2009, three channel video/shadow play, acrylic reverse painting on four Mylar Cylinders, 07m:00s looped. Image courtesy of the artist.

In a four-minute-long video interview produced by the Asia Society, artist Nalini Malani talks about her video and shadow play installation, Transgressions II (2009). Over several decades, Malani has witnessed the changes in India created by globalisation, which have in turn inspired her ongoing work.

Click here to watch the full video interview on the Asia Society website.

The “Transgressions” series is Malani’s first attempt at using three videos as the light source to create the shadow play. The first edition, created in 2001, is held in a permanent collection at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Subsequent versions were created in 2009 and 2014. Transgressions II (2009) is on show from 19 February until 3 August 2014 at the Asia Society Museum in New York.

The three-channel videos in Transgression II (2009) are projected through four transparent, rotating Lexan cylinders that are suspended from the ceiling. The coloured videos combine with illustrations that have been painted onto the revolving cylinders and that cast fantastical characters and a variety of narratives onto the walls of the gallery. The video elements in each of the editions stay the same but slight changes have been made to the images on the cylinders. To explore issues of colonisation and Western influence on India’s culture, Malani repeats the images of a European hunter on an elephant and the goddess Kali on all three editions of the artwork.

Malani states that “myths, stories and histories play a very important role” in her art practice. The female deities, boxers and animals painted on the cylinders are “very exotic, almost oriental kind of looking,” she admits. Working with soft, translucent colours and using watercolour painting techniques, the artist creates multilayered, ethereal narratives in the videos. “I don’t consider myself to be a filmmaker, but use video as a painter would and let colours bleed,” Malani explains.

Michelle Yun, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Asia Society, describes the work as reminiscent of the Kallighat style practiced in Bengal during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “In their time, Kalighat paintings often commented on topical events, and Malani makes use of this genre to examine the power dynamics of transnational commerce in our increasingly globalised world,” Yun states. Malani’s treatment of the transparent cylinder surfaces is, according to Yun, evocative of the Chinese reverse glass painting techniques introduced to the area in the eighteenth century.

When Malani first created Transgressions in 2001, India was changing dramatically under the influence of capitalism and globalisation. There was an influx of consumer goods and “objects of desire,” she explains. In the interview, Malani recalls seeing a billboard created by Orange, a multinational telecommunications company, in which the cost of talk time was compared to the price of a glass of lemon juice sold at a sidewalk stall. “These anomalies were sounding so strange in a world where we had not seen this kind of thing,” Malani states in reference to the advertisement. It was these kinds of discrepancies that inspired the poetry that is included in the installation, for example, “I speak orange, I speak blue, I speak your speak just like you.”

By juxtaposing written classical languages with narrated English-language poems, Malani uses language as a metaphor for the decline in Indian culture due to globalisation. Admitting that English is important as “it links India with the rest of the world,” she also believes that “there is a kind of sadness about losing one’s culture because of the loss of the language.”

Classical Indian languages such as Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam are depicted in a scrolling projection against the wall, the words descending like raindrops from ceiling to floor. The words are “falling down into the earth because these languages are being now more and more neglected, and English is taking over,” the artist explains. In order to emphasise English as the dominant language, Malani incorporates a child’s plea within the audio narrations in the installation: “And Amma, please send me to English School.”

More on Nalini Malani

Born in 1946, Nalini Malani rose to prominence in India due to her involvement in feminist movements in the 1980s and her groundbreaking theatre and installation projects in the 1990s. Though painting and drawing remain central to her practice, it is through her video art that Malani has gained international recognition.

Through her artwork, Malani discusses gender, memory, race and politics. She has a special interest in India’s postcolonial history and also draws inspiration from Hindu and Greek mythology and European literature. Malani has held numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world and in 2013 received the Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Stephanie Neville


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