Rooftop – Where India Inspires Creativity

Learn Indian art online

Interpreting Metaphors in Art: Part IV – Nalini Malani

As the series, ‘Interpreting Metaphors in Art’ reaches its end, Nalini Malani will be our fourth and final edition of this series. Let’s delve into the world of Malani and her immersive art!

Meet the Visionary 

Nalini Malani (Image source: Nalini Malani | CCCB)

Nalini Malani, an Indian painter, born on the 19th of February 1946, utilises various mediums for her artwork like mixed media paintings and drawings, theatre, video as well as installation art. Malani gained fame in the 1980s in India through her involvement with feminism and in the early 1990s based on avant-garde theatre and installation works or art. 

Through her art, she has continued to look at how gender issues or even those concerning social hierarchy might affect women who find themselves on the margins of mainstream society. Her art teems with migration, globalisation, poverty, as well as oppression of women, a reflection of her experience as a refugee when India and Pakistan split. Malani often paints them with mythological allusions and references to antiquity, tying them to present-day issues.

Transgressions by Nalini Malani

Transgressions, video/shadow play installation, 2001
(Image source: Nalini Malani: Transgressions)

Malani refers to the piece Transgressions, which is part of his exhibition, as a “video/shadow play.” The artist used four Mylar plastic cylinders to give it certain characteristics by “reverse painting” them from the inside out. In the seventeenth century, the Chinese established the reverse glass painting style in the Indian subcontinent and this influenced Malani in her method of painting on transparent surfaces. These cylinders are mounted on the wall through which traverse three video displays, each making 4 revolutions per minute. It is a distinctive fusion of painting, video, and moving shadows. 

Transgressions, video/shadow play installation, 2001
(Image source:
Orbit of fantasy: Nalini Malani’s transgressive play at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam | Architectural Digest India)

Malani uses the style familiarly known as Bengal’s Kalighat period to interrogate how power is wielded within the sphere of global commerce which is increasingly becoming interconnected while examining its role in society today. The pictures on the cylinders are themselves, in the Kalighat- style and include the goddess Durga, a western hunter on the elephant’s back, and two boxing figures representing India and Pakistan locked in ceaseless struggle. With the visuals is incorporated an audio clip which includes a poem authored by the artist. Also present in the collection are various artist books that underscore the value of painting and drawing in Malani’s work.

“Can You Hear Me?” by Nalini Malani

“Can You Hear Me?” by Nalini Malani
(Image source: Can You Hear Me? – AGSA

Malani calls it the “animation chamber” of art while referring to her multiple projection piece, “Can You Hear Me?”. A 2018 cartoon she designed for her Notebooks series first brought up the phrase “Can you hear me?” It narrates the story of a young girl who was abused, but her cries are nowhere to be heard. Malani’s contrasting colours and multimedia sounds and the multi-faceted voices of the dispossessed not accounted for by those in power are what resonate in these animations.

“Can You Hear Me?” by Nalini Malani
(Image source: Podcast | A brush with… Nalini Malani)

I draw them directly on an iPad with my index finger, not with the Apple Pencil. There is sensitivity with the fingertip, which is erotic, raw and there is something very direct about this process of drawing, rubbing, scratching and erasing, to do with the messing around in one’s mind. I feel like a woman with thoughts and fantasies shooting from my head.” – Nalini Malani

To summarise…

Malani changed the conventional perception of art by creating artistic expression based on the voices of marginalised people. Her work could be interpreted as a means of addressing the outside world while maintaining her identity as an Indian woman, frequently making allusions to Hindu and Greek mythology.

To learn more about contemporary art, download the Rooftop app from the App Store or Google Play to stay updated on our upcoming art events and workshops. Stay tuned to rooftop blogs and follow us on @rooftop_app.

By Soumya Kotian

Related Posts

Symbolism in Indian Art

Indian traditional art is a world in its own right. Its distinct language and symbols touch upon different aspects of life and life lessons....