Philosophers of self and the other self
A new solo exhibition by the young power couple of Indian art forces the viewer to look at the borders within the self and between nations in conflict
The first time Jitish and Reena Kallat collided, it was in class at Mumbai’s JJ School of Art in 1993. Nearly three decades after “love at first fight”, as Jitish called it, the Kallats are now the youngest power couple in Indian art who have the creative and commercial clout to influence the art bazaar.
Two concurrent solo exhibitions are showing their work at Norrtälje Konsthall, Sweden. Jitish uses art to force the viewer to pursue his self-vision—“more like a researcher’s project who uses quotes rather than an essay, with each painting necessitating a bibliography”.
Reena Saini Kallat, on the other hand, is the cartographer of memory, a Partition grandchild, whose work is notable for exploring geographic divisions that mutate into emotional, intellectual and artistic cleaving. Her river artwork titled Deep Rivers Run Quiet was created onsite in Sweden, far away from the borders of India and Pakistan.
In the current show, Reena defines national borders using electrical cables in a wall drawing where the cables intersect to illustrate the geography of conflict over sharing river waters. Jitish’s work, titled Epicycles, brings together video works such as the Forensic Trail of the Grand Banquet (2009) and The Eternal Gradient (2015) in which the ideas of time and transcendence form the core. It includes six large paintings, which are speculative and exploratory abstractions.
The show is a serendipitous result of a visit by Helén Hedensjö, director of Norrtälje Konsthall to the Kochi Biennale in 2019. Her purpose was to know more about the Indian contemporary art scene. She was overwhelmed to observe generations of artists producing work of profound historical, political and philosophical significance. As an art historian investigating the method by which existential questions are expressed and translated across borders, she was intrigued to see Reena and Jitish working together in their Mumbai studio, but in very different ways. She says, “The two solo exhibitions in Norrtälje Konsthall on each floor will offer an extensive experience of their artistic works.”
Originating from a common starting point, the works take different directions to explore the world. Reena’s art addresses man-made divisions—a theme of inquiry for over a decade on how divisions decide the fate of citizens. “These unseen lines or borders—between two states, countries, mountains or even water bodies—may be politically constructed, but what interests me is the creation of psychological and social barriers. My attempt is to look beyond the divisive histories that have shaped geographies to find continuities within natural boundaries created by mountains and rivers,” says the multi-disciplinary artist, who uses diverse expressive materials from drawing, photography, sculpture, to sound and video.
The variety of mediums Jitish uses range from dental plaster to lacquer to burnt adhesive. He believes that they have intrinsic and innate properties that generate specific sensations or experiences in the viewer. “The unlocking of these properties allows artists to develop a language. I do not have a preferential hierarchy for any medium, except for its connection with the initial artistic impulse that propelled me to create the work,” he says.
For example, Wind Study (Hilbert Curve)—named after mathematician David Hilbert—is composed of a single line overlaid in curls, one line at a time. Jitish’s oft-visited themes draw from his love for Mumbai. Ideas of the ecological and the cosmological are brought into works such as the Infinite Episode. In a moment of sleep, species surrender, and the artist asks, “Would a sleeping lion and a sleeping mouse share the same scale of body in the state of repose? Do they converge and co-habit a shared universal chamber in the state of sleep?”
Reena’s work is political and intellectual in its inquisition of history. In these polarised times where the gaps in our understanding of the truth are widening, can we find space to reflect on our own shortcomings and understand other perspectives? Little wonder that her compelling pieve—Blind Spots—finds pride of place in the exhibition. Using the metaphor of losing sight of shared values such as freedom, equality, democracy and justice found in most Constitutions across the world, the multi-channel video installation revisits the promise of democracy in an age of conflict.
Originating from a common starting point, the works by both the artists take different directions to explore the world
When & Where
On show till
September 26; Norrtälje Konsthall, Sweden