astonishing visualization of oppression

Not as much advertised as the other current exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam but very much worthwhile to pay a visit: Nalini Malani: Transgressions. The main feature is video/shadow play installation Transgressions, which is magnificent and astonishing. I’m unable to put into words what kind of experience it consists of. So you have to go see it yourself!

Nalini Malani (1946) lives and works in Bombay, India. She is producing moving images, installation and performance art since the 1960’s. After obtaining a diploma in Fine Arts at the Sir Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay in 1969, she got a scholarship to study in Paris. She has had residencies* at different continents of the world: from America to Europe to Asia. Her art is subverting inherited iconographies and cherished cultural stereotypes. She condemns nationalism and very much prefers a more inter-nationalistic approach. Going beyond the boundaries of a stuck narrative, she enables room for a dialogue.

As an artist engaging in current political, global and ecological themes, she fights for a progressive position of women. Malani is influenced by her experiences as a refugee of the Partition of India, which created two independent countries: India and Pakistan. This created alienation and oppression for her and her family.

Entering the room is disturbing and exciting at the same time. I make the connotation with a baby mobile, an innocent entertaining device for babies who have to sleep. However, these mobile looking objects are enormous. Displayed are painted transparent cylinders, rotating around its own axis. There is varying coloured light going trough the cylinders, which creates images on the wall behind it since the painted surface creates an obstruction for the light. Perhaps you remember your own magical lamp, your parents could wind up and it would rotate these shadows on your wall. Everything reminds me very much of babies, childhood and happiness. But it’s not about happiness. The installation visualises, as a ‘video/shadow play,’ a Western hunter on an elephant, Shiva, monkeys and lions, brains and kidneys, the female deity Durga, and two boxing figures representing Pakistan and India, entangled in an eternal struggle. Two female voices are repeated over and over again: “I speak orange, I speak blue” and a child’s voice is played: “Amma, please send me to English school.” It’s about globalisation, orientalism and oppression. Manali shows that without proper knowledge of the English language, it is not possible to succeed in society. The title usually gives an indication of what the artist is trying to convey. But I’m not sure what “transgression” means. However, the ever so generous Wikipedia was able to provide an explanation: 

Transgression may be:

  • A Biblical transgression is a violation of God’s Ten Commandments or another element of God’s moral law; sin (1 John 3:4)
  • A legal transgression, a crime usually created by a social or economic boundary
    • In civil law jurisdictions, a transgression or a contravention is a smaller breach of law, similar to the summary offence in common law jurisdictions.
  • A social transgression, violating a norm

Since the references on the wall are not so subtle, I think she’s addressing the western domination which is still in play in India, the oriental stigmatisation she faces in the western world and the struggle as a female artist to succeeded in a male-dominated art world. Although the painted objects on the wall are straightforward, I’m quite sure she leaves room for interpretation, contemplation and dialogue. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have made the experience of the installation so joyful. And even after understanding what “transgression” means, it could relate to the artwork in different ways. She does not dictate how you should interpret the artwork for the visitors. So you have to go see it for yourself! 

Nalini Malani: Transgressions is on view until June 18, 2017, at The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Schermafbeelding 2017-04-24 om 12.07.09
Nalini Malani Transgressions 2001


Schermafbeelding 2017-04-24 om 12.06.08
Nalini Malani Transgressions 2001



Schermafbeelding 2017-04-24 om 12.05.24
Nalini Malani Transgressions 2001
Schermafbeelding 2017-04-24 om 12.05.42
Nalini Malani Transgressions 2001


* a residency or artist-in-residence is a program where a big or small institution invites artist or academicians/curators etc, at their space. The artist is able to reflect, research or produce new works of art. The change of environment allows the artist to explore her/his practise in a new setting; meeting new people, using new materials and just experiencing the possibilities of a new location.

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