The Here And After

Jitish Kallat, National Gallery of Modern Art, South Asian Artists, Indian Artists

Lotus Medallion on a Siamese Twine. 1998. Mixed media on canvas. 152.4 x 233.68 cm. 

The largest retrospective to date of Indian artist Jitish Kallat’s varied oeuvre displays an art that explores ideas of time, sustenance, historical recall and the mysticism of everyday life

Mumbai-based artist Jitish Kallat is surrounded by a flock of children. At the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi they appear miniscule in proportion to Kallat’s large and poignant artworks–paintings, installations and videos that recreate the scene and turn the museum into the artist’s own wonderland. As Kallat explains his art to the children, many peer curiously at Autosaurus Tripous (2007), a life-size brass skeletal rickshaw made from resin, paint and steel inspired by images of vehicles burnt during riots. Like all of Kallat’s art, the work strikes a firm connection to the everyday happenings that ripple through contemporary life as well as imaginative references that serve as ways to find new meaning.

Spread across two buildings of the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi (NGMA)–the Jaipur House built as the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur in 1936, and the museum’s new wing established in 2009–the retrospective displays over 100 works by Kallat dating from as early as 1992 to the present and displayed in a non-chronological fashion. Curated by Catherine David, the exhibition juxtaposes the artist’s varied work in ways that offer elements of surprise in an attempt to source new interpretations. Such a layout was something that both Kallat and David innately agreed upon. “The exhibition itself is non-chronological and that frees itself of–the temporal order,” says Kallat. “My work has never been linear in the way that it has developed–either in terms of artistic medium, style, scale or method and yet the same methods keep coming back. The scale of the exhibition allowed for those convergences to occur.” Kallat and David then began to place artworks intuitively–sometimes, as Kallat says, “just propelled by the architecture of the space and then we would see what was emerging. Exhibitions are, of course, bio fields of meaning.”

Aquasaurus. 2008. Resin, paint and steel. 254 x 688.34 x 269.24 cm. Courtesy of the artist

Kallat’s myriad mediums greet the visitor through larger-than-life installations, paintings, drawings, and video works. It’s like entering a Disneyland for art: at every turn a work prompts the viewer with fascination and intrigue. At the entrance of the Jaipur House is Public Notice 3 that opened at the Grand Staircase of the Art Institute in Chicago in 2010. Rendered here on a bright orange backdrop and on the risers of the stairs in Chicago, is a historic speech delivered by the young Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda on September 11th 1983 as he represented Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions. Addressing his audience at the very same location as the place where the work was originally installed, Vivekananda’s speech called for an end to fundamentalism, intolerance and bigotry. Kallat’s ironic juxtaposition retrieved from a world more than a century prior holds the same message for those lost in the darkness of today’s upheaval and hatred. As Kallat states, “Maybe this is a theme to be reconsidered from a long gone utterance.”

Further historical recall is found in Covering Letter, a video installation found nestled away in a dark room in the museum’s new wing. Made in 2012, the work presents an unlikely piece of historic correspondence written by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler a few weeks before Germany invaded Poland. The words from Gandhi’s urgent appeal for peace ascend from the wall in a cascading mist so that the visitor can walk on each line–taking physical part in the historical past as much as the immediate present in an endless plea to end human violence.

“The exhibition shows the shift between the transient, whether it is the registering of the movement of the wind or the shirt pocket of a passerby or the dent on a car–these are all fleeting images,” says Kallat. “Some of them are fleeting because they are elemental and some are fleeting because they are the movement of objects in circulation around us and it captures those.”

A recurrent theme throughout the show is Kallat’s willingness to capture not only the essence of time but also elements from nature. This is apparent in his Wind Study series showcasing delicate works made in graphite on Indian handmade paper as well as Epilogue (2011), which retraces every moon Kallat’s father saw in his lifetime. Placed in direct correlation is 22,000 Sunsets (2001), a mixed media on canvas work depicting an urban moment referencing the artist’s recollection of all the sunsets he has ever seen.

Make War Not Love Chapter 1, 2015. Ink and mixed media on canvas installation.

Making art out of the transient moment couldn’t be more apparent than in Event Horizon, a series of photographic prints of everyday street life made in a panoramic format capturing within each multiple time frames. “When it [the image] is condensed into one single picture, it is almost like the past, present and the future are co-habiting in that transient moment,” says the artist. “Time dilates and condenses and as it does so it throws up the spectrum as if a rainbow descends.”

This new synthesis of time in everyday life also offers magic. “What is the mystical but a deeper experience of the everyday?” says Kallat. We pause and are enlightened for a second. “If we just set aside ourselves–because ourselves are these active turbulent selves–if we do this even momentarily, you have a small gateway to the mystical every moment and the choice is available to us. It’s just that we exercise it so very little.” A similar effect takes place in Cry of the Gland where details of shirt pockets of people passing by align the entirety of the museum wall in various colours. “If I go to a pocket after a pocket after a pocket or a dent after a dent after a dent–then each changes its meaning,” says the artist. The recurring element then transforms into something else. “The collision does have a moment of animation,” adds Kallat on the metamorphosis of the ordinary through art creation. “It’s in the moment of life and of death. I am trying to seek meaning in everything.” And as we walk through the multitude of works on display, a plethora of various meanings arise. New understandings and juxtapositions are to be found in Here After Here at every turn.


Here After Here ran until 14 March at the NGMA, Delhi. Fore more information visit Ngmaindia.gov.in

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Jitish Kallat, National Gallery of Modern Art, South Asian Artists, Indian Artists

Lotus Medallion on a Siamese Twine. 1998. Mixed media on canvas. 152.4 x 233.68 cm.