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Profile - Reena Saini Kallat
Reena Saini Kallat is among the 21 artists from India whose works will be featured at a significant show of 21st Century Works titled ‘New Narratives: Contemporary Art from India’. Her inclusion in this major show that represent a new perspective on art from India by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs underlines her status as one of India’s premier artists.

Her work forms part of the display of the 21st century art from India show that unveils a fresh perspective on our rich cultural traditions and artistic independence through paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations, video and new media works from the country.

This ‘opportunity’ has served as a site to her for exploring the larger issues of identity, belonging and nationalism; this in turn referencing the geo-political body of a great democracy born in the aftermath of fragmentation. In her latest body of work, ‘Rainbow of Refuse’, she further explores these concerns, extending them to more contentious issues such as confrontationist postures under the garb of security and self-defense.

In her creations the artist sets up juxtapositions like the universality of such a state and its local relevance, historical precedence and its immediate presence, which in turn force the viewers to reassess their pre-set impressions and assumptions.

The beauty of the powerful and nuanced objects Reena Saini Kallat employs is belied by their implicit violence. She opts to retrieve these as symbols, or even create new ones to reposition them, resulting in irony that makes the viewer come face to face with the fragility of the human condition in the context of oppressive political forces.

Born in New Delhi, the artist completed her Bachelors Degree (Painting) from the Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai in 1996. She has received the prestigious Solomon Gladston award. Her first solo show in 1998, was titled ‘Orchard of Home-Grown Secrets’ (Gallery Chemould and Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai) followed by another solo, ‘Skin’ (Gallery Chemould, Mumbai and and Art Inc. Gallery, New Delhi in 2000. She works in a diverse range of media - acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, and acrylic and carbon impressions on paper.

Reena Saini Kallat’s versatile art, be it painting, sculpture, installation and public art, references the personal and the political, and brings to the fore her concerns as she raises pertinent questions regarding the terms of contemporary life. Analyzing her work, noted critic Nancy Adajania mentions: “Her paintings and sculpture-installations portray the human body, and by extension the body politic, under perennial siege, wracked by mythic demons and unknown viruses that strike at it from all sides.

“To fend off such relentless acts of invasion, occupation and possession, she draws or shapes objects in the form of auspicious offerings: lush foliage, fruits, flowers, etc. The artist's actions reveal an obsessive need to consecrate and sanctify contested sites, to ward off forces of conflict and chaos. She externalizes her fears and anxieties about the human condition, and hopes to contain or neutralize them, by creating talismanic objects.”

The fragility of human existence is a recurring theme in her oeuvre. To explain how her work is structured around dualities that reverberate with ideas of loss and recovery, she has stated, “I seek to explore a sense of order within urban chaos and this suggests to me a state of permanent change." Contemporary popular culture often comes under her scanner. So, she may choose to depict the glitz of the world of advertising that acts as a lid on shattered hopes.

The complicated strands of the media's glorification of violence becomes a matter of contemplation for her,as which reflected in her painting ‘Meteor Markings’ which tries to depict the horror of violence and its subsequent justification. There’s an unclear albeit deliberate relation between beauty and violence. Even her fantasies and state of being are explored in the context of prevailing socio-economic realities.