The immersive experience of standing before Nalini Malani’s work at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 2017 was a clear indication that the artist has a very strong international presence. The shadow play of mylar drums, rotating like prayer wheels and throwing figures, both playful and horrific on the walls (Remembering Mad Meg, 2007), the video works of mutilated faces and eyes morphing and being sutured (Hamletmachine, 2000), the sculptures of a figure on an operating table covered with latex gloves (The Job, 1997), and the drawings that were part of her retrospective 'A Vision in Light', featuring 50 years of work, have set Malani up as one of the artists whose art cut across geographical boundaries and concerns. After Paris, the exhibition was on view at the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, Italy till January 6, 2019.
Malani is known to quote from Hindu mythology as easily as she could reference the ancient Greeks. She often creates large-scale video installations in which images are projected onto see-through structures. In doing so, the footage appears to play on the surrounding walls, creating an immersive effect.
Hence, it was no big surprise then when Malani was announced the winner of the seventh edition of the prize granted by the Fundació Joan Miró and the "la Caixa". It is, however, a matter of great prestige given that it is one of the most celebrated and best-endowed contemporary art awards in the world. Winning this prize translates into a € 70,000 euro award and the covering of production costs of a solo exhibition of Malani’s works scheduled for display at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona in 2020.
“The prize is from an artist’s foundation that was started by the artist Joan Miró himself during his lifetime. This is rare and very important as it shows his belief in artists of the future,” says Malani who is travelling but took out time to answer us via email. “Miró provided a beautifully designed building by Josep Lluís Sert in 1975 for art other than his own. It is about his utmost belief of life in art. I met Joan Miró in 1972 in Paris when I was a student there. His work has been very important for me and I have learnt a lot from his oeuvre,” says a jubilant Malani.
The jury collectively acknowledged Malani as their choice because of her ‘longstanding commitment to the silenced and the dispossessed all over the world, most particularly women, through a complex artistic quest based on immersive installations and a personal iconography where a profound knowledge of ancient mythologies converges with a bold condemnation of contemporary injustices.’ Ongoing concerns in her work include the aftermath of colonialism in India and the legacy of surrealism.
From her days as a student at the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai (1964–1969), where she experimented with camera-less photography and film, Malani has always chosen the unexpected over the norm. She trained as a painter at the Sir JJ School of Art and then in Paris at Atelier Friedlander and at the Sorbonne. She is also known to be one of the first Indian artists to have experimented with new media art.
In a statement, the prize’s jury said, “By alluding to a myriad of cultural references from both East and West, [Malani] has built an impressive body of work that engages viewers through complex, immersive installations that present her vision of the battered world we live.” Her vision is very personal, yet cosmopolitan. It is an “iconographic mingling that boldly denounces contemporary violence and injustice, and their effects on planetary life.”
That jury included Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London; Magnus af Petersens, director of the Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm; Alfred Pacquement, former director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris; João Ribas, former curator of the Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal; Nimfa Bisbe, director of the La Caixa Foundation collection of contemporary art; and Marko Daniel, director of the Fundació Joan Miró.