For nearly two decades now, Nalini Malani has sustained a dialogue with presences and absences in history, with the unending succession of brutality that human history represents. In her engagement with historical discourse, she is part of a distinguished cohort of third world artists who have insistently interrogated the structure of history. Such interrogation is perhaps a necessary manoeuvre for those dealing with complicated inheritance in a world that is manifestly not interested in listening to marginal voices. Or otherwise, in listening to marginality only when it is offered up in a recognizable, palatable guise, packaged into familiar parcels that do not fundamentally unsettle our expectations. As a necessary corollary to an interrogation of historical discourse and its elisions, Malani’s work has engaged with questions of representation in visual art, setting up a back and forth momentum between imagery pared down, bled of narrative charge, and a range of highly codified iconography, suffused with associative meaning. In either case, this momentum in her work operates through the “unreliable” and highly porous nature of memory, personal as well as collective.
Nalini Malani’s practice is manifestly diverse. She has painted on canvas, paper, walls, glass and mylar. She has made artist books and accordion books using monotype, photocopy, drawing and painting. She has created immersive environments through theatrical productions, collaborating with directors, actors, musicians and designers. She has made large video installations with several streams of imagery simultaneously channelled onto screens and monitors. She has also made single-channel animated videos, drawing and erasing images several hundred times in the process. And she has created proto-cinematic painted installations using revolving mylar cylinders.
Over the last decade, her work has been seen at least as much overseas as it has been within India, being represented in prestigious biennials and triennials in different parts of the world. She has been at the vanguard of a select band of Indian artists with highly visible international careers and de-facto world citizenship, who have nevertheless maintained close links in life and work to the cultural substratum of “home.”
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