The politics of art through “Vision In Motion” by Nalini Malani at M+

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“When I first encountered this body of work, I was immediately struck by its relentless creativity and agility across different disciplines; the timelessness, relevance and universality of its ideas; and the deep sense of empathy and genuine emotion embedded in her art,” recalls Ulanda Blair, Curator of Moving Image at M+, Hong Kong. Blair directs this very statement to the works of – a pioneer in film, photography and video art, and the first Indian to receive the Joan Miró Prize – Nalini Malani. A prolific interdisciplinary artist, humanist and social activist, Nalini’s large-scale installation art reiterates the inherent ethos of a human civilization, as she unpacks and reflects on stories of violence, oppression and injustice. sociopolitical. The contemporary artist relies on her visual language to create awareness and defend those who have been ignored, forgotten or marginalized by history. However, there is a common underlying goal that continues to be a highlight in her work – the position of women in a larger socio-political context.




Nalini Malani in her studio in Bombay Image: Johan Pijnappel; Courtesy of the artist


Malani’s dynamic artwork has converted the floors of M+, the world’s premier museum of contemporary visual culture in Asia, into a bustling hall of psychedelic vibrancy, light and color. Deepening her practice, M+ curated an exhibition that examines Malani’s artistic trajectory over five decades. It’s a retrospective in its own right! There is a particular evolution in her practice as she embraces new technologies and innovative ways of working. Ulanda shares, “Although her mediums and methods have changed considerably during this period, she has always maintained her distinctive approach to storytelling which combines personal narratives with motifs from folklore, classic literature and mythology. For Nalini, these historical stories have the power to transcend the trauma of national divisions and resolve collective issues of social injustice.



Installation view by Nalini Malani: Vision in Motion, 2021, installation, Nalini Malani |  Vision in motion |  Nalini Malani |  STIRworld
Installation view of Nalini Malani: Vision in Motion, 2021, installation Image: Winnie Yeung @ VISUAL VOICES; Courtesy of the artist and M+, Hong Kong


The first chapter of this enigmatic curation is presented at ‘M+ The Studio’ and is titled ‘Vision in Motion’. This exhibition brings together three fantastical, multi-layered creations – each of which marks an era and a high point in Nalini’s artistic career. The first installation is Malani’s first stop-motion animation work titled Utopia (1969 – 1976). This piece marks an artistic critique of the utopian ambition of the postcolonial modernization project in the Nehruvian era. Presented chronologically, the very next digital installation is Remembering Mad Meg (2007 – 2019) – inspired by the Flemish folktale of Dulle Griet or Mad Meg. Malani’s installation depicts Meg’s imagery as a symbol of feminine strength and courage, a champion of humanity’s future in the face of obstruction and destruction.




Nalini Malani and Doryun Chong on shadow play as a creative medium Video: Courtesy of M+, Hong Kong


Reminiscent of traditional shadow play in native Indian theaters, Malini incorporated light and shadow techniques intertwining with rotating Mylar cylinders painted upside down. This artwork is a classic genre of what Nalini calls “Video/Shadow Play”. “Dark imagery is a hallmark of Nalini’s practice more broadly. Nalini uses shadows as a vehicle for memory and to reflect on the long-term traces of historical trauma. Her work often uses light and dark as inseparable companions who condition and depend on each other, like the cycle of night and day.The shadows soften or erase some of its brighter images, as if to suggest that memories can swallow up the things that are right in front of us, hidden from view,” Blair said.



Can You Hear Me?, 2018-2020, Nine Channel Digital Video Installation with Sound, Nalini Malani |  Vision in motion |  Nalini Malani |  STIRworld
Can You Hear Me?, 2018-2020, Nine Channel Digital Video Installation with Sound Image: Lok Cheng & Dan Leung/ M+, Hong Kong; courtesy of the artist © Nalini Malani


The last installation in the vision in motion is the recent creation of Malani – Can you hear me? (2018 – 2020). Hidden behind these graffiti like renderings, scribbled shapes, jerky handwritten notes, thought bubbles and distorted figures, lurks the scream of a girl being violently raped. Encompassing 84 animations, this digital art captures frenzy, extreme tension, terrifying trauma, and throbbing nervous energy. Animation mimics the feminine, often perceived as an object of exploitation and abuse through the male gaze.



In search of missing blood on the facade of M+, 2022, installation, Nalini Malani |  Vision in motion |  Nalini Malani |  STIRworld
In search of missing blood on the façade of M+, 2022, installation Picture: Motion Picture Studio; Courtesy of Nalini Malani and M+, Hong Kong


As an extension of the Studio’s exhibition, the Indian artist has created his new In search of missing blood (2012 – 2022), on the M+ facade. This eight-and-a-half-minute silent video introduces bold visual dialogue to Hong Kong’s vast skyline. “Nalini’s latest work is presented as a silent single-channel video on a massive 110m wide outdoor public screen, drawing mass audiences to the city’s streets and harbour,” says Ulanda. It encapsulates coded images such as sign languages, cloudy skies, world maps, facial expressions and chronophotographic still images of animal locomotion inspired by the 18th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge.



In search of missing blood on the facade of M+, 2022, installation, Nalini Malani |  Vision in motion |  Nalini Malani |  STIRworld
In search of missing blood on the façade of M+, 2022, installation Picture: Motion Picture Studio; Courtesy of Nalini Malani and M+, Hong Kong


Commenting on the mechanics of the monumental images, Ulanda shares: “The silent work opens with an excerpt from Dream Houses, his first stop-motion animation made in 1969, then moves on to a layered sequence of intricate hand-drawn drawings and paintings. the hand. It also features old footage of Mishka Sinha, a former actress who collaborated with Nalini on several occasions in the early 2000s, and who here becomes the canvas for Nalini’s video projections. The final scene features footage from the Imperial War Museum archives and shows First World War army soldiers using flags to practice semaphore signaling. Steeped in personal and real-world references, this enigmatic installation demands viewers’ attention and serious introspection into Malani’s longstanding investigation of the effects of war, violence and repression on women.

The latest chapter in this collaboration is an Instagram takeover unveiling nine animation series titled ‘LIFE’ (2022). The animation series references the poem “The Elements Of Composition” by Indian poet and scholar AK Ramanujan. This virtual series will metaphorically represent the nature of life, death and the afterlife.

I go through them as they go through me taking in and going out.
– AK Ramanujan

The strong and powerful voice of the mixed media artist demands to be heard, experienced and felt. Well opposed to the art of politics and the politics of art, Malani’s visual language adds impressively to important conversations about global socio-political affairs. His art is the change we want to see in society and we as viewers must contribute to Malani’s ongoing efforts against injustice.

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