Nalini Malani: My Reality Is Different at the National Gallery
Nalini Malani’s latest installation challenges traditional painting methods and immerses viewers in an imaginative, kaleidoscopic realm. As the recipient of the National Gallery’s first Contemporary Fellowship, Malani has created a panorama of nine large video projections, hand-drawn on an iPad, which revisit iconic paintings in both the National Gallery and Bath’s Holburne Museum, including works by Caravaggio, Bronzino, Hans Holbein and Michelangelo. Within the “animation chamber”, familiar motifs such as Venus and Cupid or The Judgement of Paris, are expertly transformed and obscured.
Malani, a video artist born in Karachi in 1946, studied at the Sir Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Mumbai, where she received a Diploma in Fine Arts. After completing her studies, she worked with photography and film, creating politically charged installations inspired by experiences of marginalisation and oppression.
The artist’s new exhibition is not solely focused on providing a visual experience. Rather, it requires an engaged interpretation process, discouraging passivity and prompting viewers to re-evaluate conventional approaches to painting. The pieces transform with each viewing, evoking a sense of constant metamorphosis. While the installation’s intentional ambiguity may detract from the viewer’s ability to engage with the works, the visually captivating nature of the exhibition remains an undeniable point of interest.
Malani’s incorporation of fictional portraits of marginalised individuals from Asia and Africa, concealed behind stock market charts and financial graphics, is a striking and provocative statement that highlights the pervasive presence of forced labour within our global economy. The display’s accompanying soundtrack features the pairing of the ancient Greek myth of Cassandra, whose prophetic insights were ignored, with the patriotic tune Rule, Britannia!, intended as a commentary on colonial violence. This is a powerful message for those who catch it.
The lobby before the presentation showcases a variety of quotes, some of which are drawn from Christa Wolf’s Cassandra novel, while others are only tangentially linked to the main animated installation. Unfortunately, the exhibit’s critical significance would have been enhanced with a more thorough clarification of these quotes.
Nevertheless, the central display confronts the dark past of Western art and serves as a powerful impetus to rethink the systems that have allowed oppression and inequality to endure. This institutional critique is palpable upon arrival, as visitors walk past the iconic paintings at the National Gallery used in the exhibit, and then enter Malani’s space to witness their distortion and disfigurement.
Overall, Malani’s installation tackles significant social and historical issues, while providing an insightful perspective into her unique, different reality.
Nalini Malani: My Reality Is Different is at the National Gallery from 2nd March until 11th June 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.