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Reena Saini-Kallat ‘drift’s in Italy
Primo Marella Gallery presents ‘Drift’, the first solo exhibition in Europe dedicated to the established Indian artist, Reena Saini Kallat. She is known to be deeply influenced by the never-ending cycle of life and nature, as well as the extremely fragile nature of the human condition. With a range of painterly interests that encapsulates politics, femininity, and subtle evolutions in the human condition, her art practice reflects the popular and iconic influences with conscious attention paid to historical as well as contemporary narratives.

After completing her B.F.A. in painting from the J.J. School of Art in 1996, the artist has had several exhibitions in India and internationally. In her inaugural solo show ‘Orchard of Home-grown secrets’ (1998), at Gallery Chemould and Pundole Art Gallery, she tackled issues of home and identity. Her exhibition entitled ‘Skin’, held in New Delhi and at Chemould (2000), was an alternation between saturated, focused imagery and distanced abstractions of organic structures. ‘The Battlefield is the Mind’ (2002) touched upon overtly political concerns. ‘Hard Copy’, was a joint show with husband Jitish Kallat held in Kolkata. In ‘Black Flute’, at Chemould (2004), she juxtaposed her interrogation of portraiture and iconicity with paintings of faces set atop internal organs and personalized attributes.

Her work has featured in several prestigious shows internationally, including ‘Chalo! India: A New Era of Indian Art’, Mori Museum, Japan, National Museum of Korea and Essl Museum, Vienna; ‘India Moderna’, IVAM Museum, Valencia, Spain; ‘Urban Manners’, Hangar Bicocca, Milan; ‘Thermocline Of Art- New Asian Waves’, ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany; ‘Soft Power: Asian Attitude’ at Shanghai Zendai Museum; and ‘India Express – Art and Popular Culture’, Art Museum Tennispalace, Helsinki City Art Museum, Finland among others.

With her new solo, Reena Saini Kallat’s intriguing rubberstamp installations are back in spotlight. The works first showcased in Mumbai and later in Chicago, are featured in Milan, Italy. A curatorial note referring to her multi-faceted oeuvre mentions that the artist has gained immense recognition in recent years for the remarkable ease and alertness with which she opts to tackle several complex themes across a diverse media.

Reena Saini Kallat’s wide choice of media includes painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, and video. Unveiling her new set of works, the gallery mentions in its release: “Within this solo show, there is an extraordinarily eloquent body of work titled ‘Synonym’. The works stand like screens holding up portraits formed by several hundred names of people rendered in over 14 Indian languages. From a distance they appear as portraits, but up-close they almost seem like a circuit-board of rubberstamps. The rubberstamps are made with names of those officially registered as having gone missing in India, whereas the back of each portrait appears like a sea of invisible identities, a bird’s eye view of a large human congregation.”

‘Synonym’ is a take on the people who go missing from various part of India, perhaps never to be found. Their portraits are akin to jigsaw puzzles carved out of numerous rubberstamps, inscribed with their ‘names’, as mentioned above, in different languages. The works are mounted on a grid that holds aloft the ‘puzzle’.

On the other hand, in her sculptures such as ‘White Heat (The Ironing Board)’ or the seminal video work ‘Silt of Seasons-I’, the focus is on highly guarded relationship India shares with its neighbor Pakistan and the uncertain nature of the peace process between the countries. The works playfully render the frustrations of the ever-going dialogue.

In ‘Closet Quarries’ Reena Saini-Kallat chooses to work with the captivating inlays of the Taj Mahal and overlay them with a history invisible to the naked eye. She repeats her leitmotif in the work inspired by the inlay patterns on the wonderful walls of the world-famous structure. The peculiar stamps carry names and symbols engraved on the red sandstones along its back wall and also on the pathways leading to it. Her idea is to shed light on the anonymous architects who secretly engraved their names in obscure sites around these legendary monuments. The same are embedded in beautiful inlay work and deft designs created with the rubberstamps.

In a separate register is the major sculptural installation titled ‘Saline’, where the artist re-constructs imagery from the myths of the past and re-incarnates them with renewed meaning suggestive of the historical present. The exhibition is accompanied by a magnificent monograph on the artist.

Summing up the essence of her works, the curators conclude: “What continues to interest this remarkable artist is the idea of representation, which is fundamental to painting, and the possibilities it carries for the generation of meaning through a calibrated interplay of image and form.”