Millennium Post

Paris centre pompidou celebrates Malani retrospective 2017

Rebellion of the Dead is a call to acknowledge the power of the feminine, the power of intuition in a woman, in a world where the feminist revolution is unfinished, writes Uma Nair.

Global critics and scholars have hailed her as the pioneering visual artist of performance, video art and installation in India. In inviting Nalini Malani to the Center Pompidou for a dedicated retrospective, "The Rebellion of the Dead", Malani stands high and tall as one of India's greatest artists – this high priestess of contemporary art unveils work that spans 50 years. At Pompidou Parisians and media are studying highlights of her work on utopias and dystopias.

Curators at the Pompidou have designed this epic culling as one that looks at Nalini Malani's work from both a non-chronological and a thematic angle. The exhibition unveiling like a maze of brilliance tackles various concepts that underlie her œuvre: utopia, dystopia, her vision of India and most importantly the role of women in the world.

Explorative investigation
The result of the Partition of India in 1947 has had a lifelong traumatic effect on Malani's family, whose experiences as refugees continue to inform her art practice. But her experiences become a springboard of aesthetics that are born out of research and reading and collaborative legacies. In a world where the spotlight is turning on violence against women and sexual mores Malani's explorative investigation of female subjectivity and her profound condemnation of violence — in its insidious and mass forms — is a constant reminder of the vulnerabilities and precariousness of life and human existence.
Inherited iconographies
Techniques and explorations are her hallmarks of insignia over the years. In her art, she places inherited iconographies and cherished cultural stereotypes under pressure.
Global scholars have appreciated and recognised that Malani has been a frontrunner in illustrating her point of view as unwaveringly urban and internationalist, and she has also been unsparing in her condemnation of a cynical nationalism that exploits the beliefs of the masses. Here at the Pompidou, her show is an encyclopaedia of art history that rivets in the mappings of fantasia as it flows through the course of credibility and insight.
Malani's collaborations in performance, theatre and publishing with thinkers such as social-cultural anthropologist Dr Arjun Appadurai, actress Alaknanda Samarth, Butoh dancer Harada Nobuo and theatre director Dr Anuradha Kapur are a testament to her constant seeking of interdisciplinary forms to best investigate and communicate personal and political issues.
Her work exists as a temporal and corporeal confrontation of the past, present and future; a dynamic synthesis of memory, fable, truth, myth, trauma and resistance. It is an eloquent and elegant construction of a new lingua franca of imagination and form, and of phenomena and meaning even as it speaks to us about novel manifestations of telling many tales through the past and the present.

"When the living are no longer able to fight, the dead can, and with every heartbeat of the revolution, the flesh pushes back on their bones, the blood flows again in their veins, and life in their death. The rebellion of the dead will be the war of the landscapes, our arms the forests, the mountains, the oceans of the world. I will be forest, mountain, ocean, desert, me, that is to say, Africa, me, that is to say, Asia."
In a shadow theatre, we hear these words from Heiner Muller, excerpts from his play The Mission. Malani has also written these words on one of the walls. Malani revels in seizing the troubles and pains that become inherent elements that agitate the living, and she draws on the glass, to enact a remembrance that acts like a memoir.
In an interview to the French media she states: "The shadows are ephemeral, and the ephemeral interests me, because we can not cling to it, and for all that, this thing is deposited in our memory." She succeeds in integrating the interest of the spectator. The shades have a variable intensity, and according to what the viewer relates to there is a synergy that is created.
Hanging lanterns
Installations drawings and paintings and videos form the grace of this historic retrospective. Of great fascination is the "lanterna magica" that she personifies -- when she creates installations she weaves history and makes goddesses and mythological figures dance on the wings of shadows and light. While you espie her works you must not miss the lucidity and responsibility that unravels a cerebral yet sensitive social reading.
Remembering Mad Meg
Through eight Lexan plastic cylinders, four video animations project image by image on the walls of the museum, we can conjure the scenes and stories of iconographic tales. There is a dance in these fragments of legends, mutant creatures, fragments of the human body, playing out like a disarticulated mechanical doll. The soundtrack is composed of distant screams and has pathos and pain. The very title of this central work, Remembering Mad Meg, is a reference to Margot the crazy painted by Bruegel the Elder around 1562. For Nalani Malani, it is the ultimate cry against the war that consumes our world.
"One of the hallmarks of these shadow theatres is that these works that fill a whole room encompass visitors by irresistibly attracting them by superimposing moving images, in which most people stay for long enough," says the revered 71-year-old artist. Her first shadow theatre with rotating cylinders dates back to 1998 and was called The Sacred and the Profane.
Indeed there is a childhood fantasia that wraps around your senses. Remembering Mad Meg (2007-2017) is the biggest shadow theatre of Nalani Malani and is the backbone of the exhibition that pays tribute to the Pompidou Center before leaving for Castello di Rivoli, near Turin in 2018.
At Pompidou, Malani takes on the role of a feminist and humanist who has history coursing through her veins. Capturing viewers in varied vivid ways, yet using more analogue techniques, this retrospective shows why Malani is revered for her experimental drawings, films, photographs, performances and video-shadow plays that explore the cultural legacies of a partitioned India as well as women's stories.
Her own words from an interview hold true: "Mythology is a universal language; it forms a link to the viewer. Many myths are still widely known. Whether I refer to Vishnu or Shiva or Cassandra or Medea, people know the stories. And then, hopefully, like looking up annotations in a novel, people will seek out the additional references in my work." Rebellion of the Dead is a call to acknowledge the power of the feminine, the power of intuition in a woman, in a world where the feminist revolution is unfinished, we are still suffering.

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