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Artist Profile2
An artist who constantly reflects on the contemporary realities
Nalini Malani is among the most noteworthy contemporary Indian artists, whose practice is greatly influenced by her personal experiences of the Partition of India. Her point of view is urban and internationalist, and unwavering in its abject condemnation of a cynical nationalism, which looks to exploit the blind beliefs of the masses. In a way, hers is an art of excess that traverses the boundaries of legitimized narrative, and exceeds the conventional, to initiate dialogue.

Since the early 1970s, she has been visualizing her feminine stance in an emphatic manner. The artist is also known to put inherited iconographies and certain cherished cultural stereotypes under scrutiny. As a woman who has lived in a world of ‘man’-made disasters, she has often drawn from the stories of characters like Aka, Medea, and Mad Meg. Elaborating on her tendency to ‘retell’ stories in paintings and installations, she has stated: “In India stories from the epics are told over and over again. When people know the story there is a certain pact because they can anticipate what will come next. My idea is not only to retell them in a new form but also in new configurations.”

While studying at Mumbai’s Sir J.J. School of Arts, she acquired a studio, and had the opportunity to interact with senior artists like Tyeb Mehta and MF Husain. After completing a Diploma in Fine Arts (1964-69), she received a Scholarship for Fine Arts from French Government (1971-72). In the eighties she organized the landmark exhibition, entitled ‘Place for People’, along with Vivan Sundaram. Later she thought of a traveling exhibition comprising only female artists. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ involved Madhavi Parekh, Arpita Singh, Nilima Sheikh, and herself. In the early 1990s, she opted to break away from conventional norms of painting.

Amplified characteristics of her socially sensitive works gradually transformed into new media, international collaboration, slipping into the surrounding space like ephemeral wall drawing, shadow play, multi projection works, installation and theatre. New York Times art critic Roberta Smith pointed out in a review: “The artist seems indebted to American artists like Nancy Spero, Ida Applebroog etc, who have used illustrational styles. Her work surpasses theirs, thanks to its glowing, transparent colors; ease of execution; and visual richness. These qualities make it, despite its sometimes harsh subject matter, an essentially celebratory art.”

The artist’s selected solos include 'Splitting the Other: Retrospective 1993-2009'; 'Cassandra', Galerie Lelong, Paris (2009); 'Listening To The Shades', Arario Gallery, New York (2008); Irish Museum Of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland (2007); ‘Exposing the Source: A retrospective exhibition’, Peabody Essex Museum (2005-06); ‘Stories Retold’, Bose Pacia, NY (2004); Hamletmachine, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY (2002-3). Her recent significant group exhibitions are 'Collection Show 2010', Arario Gallery, Seoul; 'Modern Folk', Aicon Gallery, NY; 'New Art from India & Pakistan', Faye Fleming & Partner, Geneva; 'Masters of Maharashtra' courtesy LKA, Delhi (all in 2010).

Among her recent major participations are 'Finding India: Art for the New century', courtesy Sakshi Gallery at MOCA, Taipei; 'FIAC 2010', Paris; 'Contemporary Printmaking In India', courtesy Priyasri Art Gallery, Mumbai; 'Manifestations IV', Delhi Art Gallery; 25th Anniversary Exhibition of Sakshi Gallery; 'Taswir: Pictorial Mappings of Islam & Modernity', Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin (all 2010); 'Conflicting Tales: Subjectivity', Burger Collection, Berlin; ‘How Nations are Made', Green Cardamom, London; 'Panoroma: India' at 'ARCOmadrid', Spain; 'Indian Narrative in the 21st Century', Casa Asia, Madrid; 'Lines of Control' in Dubai, Karachi and Cardamom, London (2009) and 'Indian Highway', courtesy Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo

Though primarily a painter, she is also engaged in theatre, video, neon sculptures etc and has created several impressive installation/performance collaborations as well as vibrant video works. Among the honors and awards she has won are Lucas Art Residencies, Montalvo Ca. (2005); Artist in Residence Program courtesy Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (1999-2000); Senior Fellowship and Junior Fellowship from Government of India (1989-91, 1984-87); USIA Fellowship (1989); French Government Scholarship (1970-72). Her works are with major international museums as well as private collections like British Museum; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Musee Cantonal des Beaux Arts; Lausanne; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum; and The Burger Collection (Zumikon).

Chemould Prescott Road has exhibited her works several times over last two decades. In fact, a selection of her most significant mixed media works including paintings and video installations done over the last five years was just presented by it along with Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai. The display at Chemould revolved around a 50ft multi-panel painting - a direct reference to the communal riots in the state of Gujarat a few years ago, whereas the latter ran an elaborate video/shadow-play.

Lauding her artistic achievements, an exhibition note stated: “Nalini Malani’s work has constantly reflected on the state of the nation. For her the nightmare of history and the dream of redemption are encapsulated in her practice of working with installations, video and painting. For the artist, to be born in the midnight hour both literally and metaphorically has constantly played a dual role in her life – growing up in the utopian Nehruvian era, as well as living through the trauma of the family’s migration from Karachi to her twin city, Mumbai during partition. The duality of these events in her life linked to more recent political happenings since 1992.” Summing up the core of her art practice, she quips, “The artist is a witness to a memory of loss. One has to renew oneself without nostalgia…”