The Artsy Hufflehoe: Nalini Malani and Immigration and the Oppression of Women

The first post (hopefully of many) of my new feature all about art! Today I’m going to talk about one of my favourite artists, Nalini Malani.

I had unfortunately never heard of Malani until an exhibition opened in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam called Transgressions. I was immediately hooked when I read that her work focused on issues like immigration and the opression of women, so naturally I had to check it out. And guys I was immediately in love.

But let’s talk about Malini herself first. She is one of India’s most important contemporary artists. Born in 1946 in Karachi, Pakistan, she had to flee a year after with her family during the separation  of India and Pakistan. Till this day you can see this reflect in her work.

She was trained as a classical artist in Bombay, but when in the ’90s religious fundamentalism started to gain ground she changed her style and medium. She criticised these changes by working  with different mediums that were new for India, like her wall drawing/erasure-perfomances, experimental theater and video/shadow play.

As I said her work focuses on immigration and the opression of women, but also globalisation, poverty and many more. She often combines these themes with motives from classic literature and mythology.

Basically she’s awesome and I love her and I want all the books Stedelijk has on her but

I mentioned Malani’s wall drawings/erasure-performances. She made a drawing in the Stedelijk as well, at the beginning of the exhibition:

She made this a week before the opening. It criticises the current refugee crisis and combines that with her fascination for literary and mythological stories in which women play important roles. On the last day of the exhibition the drawing will disappear through an ‘Erasure Performance’.

My two favourite works of her at the exhibition are the installation Transgressions and the video ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’.

Stills of ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’

TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE

‘In Search of Vanished Blood’ is an incredibly powerful and emotional video in which you’ll hear the inner voice of a woman who has been brutally raped by a group of men (you don’t hear the actual rape). It’s inspired by the book ‘Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays’ by Christa Wolf and the poem ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’ by the Pakistani leftist intellectual and revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The video is about a collapsing society for which Cassandra offers a humane escape, if we would only listen and learn from past tragedies. Instead of the standard world map, Malani used a world map with the USA in the middle as a backdrop.

Honestly I felt like crying while watching this video (if I had been on my own I probably would’ve). It is so powerful.

The other work is Transgressions, which is the heart of the exhibition. It’s a beautiful installation that can’t be captured in pictures. And not just because of the projected images changing and the audio.

There is so much to see that you just can’t stop looking. It also felt very hypnotising, with the combination of  the turning of the cylinders and the voices of the woman and the girl who are constantly on repeat.

The installation covers the past and current situation of India, the trauma of colonisation and the beginning of globalisation. Seriously, it’s such a impactful work. I really recommend seeing it for yourself if you have the chance.

If you’re in Amsterdam somewhere between now and June 18th, you can still see the exhbition at the Stedelijk Museum. I couldn’t find out where the exhibition is headed afterwards, but I really recommend keeping an eye out for it!

Are you familiar with Nalini Malani’s work? Have you seen it? What did  you think? Who are some of your favourite artists? Let me know in the comments!