Mumbai-based artist, Reena Saini Kallat works with diverse media to deliberate conflict and co-existence. Anchored in archival research, Kallat's artworks probe critically into history, collective memory, identity, and perception through careful considerations of material such as official records, state-constitutions, maps, and archaeological surveys.Read More
For Kallat, man-made borders shape perceptions of spaces, turning geographical terrain into political territory and subsequently creating psychological divides between communities. In Woven Chronicle (2011-2016), showcased at the Konsthall Goteburg, Vancouver Art Gallery, and MoMA, Kallat depicted a map tracing historical movements of migrants using electric cables. These wires symbolise carriers of information that bring the world closer, as well as barriers tearing regions apart, highlighting the irony of applauding a well-connected world.
To expose the arbitrariness of territorial-skirmishes, Kallat frequently draws attention to ecosystems and indigenous vegetation. In 2010, she participated in a River Biennial in Sydney, in which her work, 2 degrees was inspired by the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. That year, River Indus overflowed across Indian and Pakistani provinces of Punjab, transgressing political boundaries. In 2013, Kallat began working on her Hyphenated Lives series, visualising hybridized birds, animals, trees, and flowers made from national symbols of politically-divided countries. These imaginary beings confront regional divides, proposing a reunification in the future. The series was displayed at Kallat's 2017 exhibition Earth Families at the Manchester Museum, along with Cleft (2017) and Garden of Forking Paths (2017), where the hybrids inhabit the same landscape, emphasising our inherent inter-dependence. In her sound sculptures, Chorus I and II (2015-2019), modelled on acoustic devices built during the World Wars to track enemy aircrafts, national birds of 'enemy-nations' sing to each other to subvert premises of war. Kallat's references to nature recall deeper time, highlighting the historical specificity of ostensibly eternal political constructs.
Kallat often references foundational legal texts that legitimise nations. The video, Synapse (2011) depicts the preamble to the Constitution of India on an eye chart, being read by patients in a clinic. Verso-Recto-Recto-Verso (2017-2019), a two-part hand-dyed bandhini scroll depicts paragraphs of India and Pakistan's constitutions, printed in part-Braille, part Roman script. The video-installation, Blind Spots (2019), also features shared ideas from preambles to constitutions of conflict-ridden countries in the form of Snellen eye charts where the English text morphs into Braille. The inscrutability of these texts reveal how commonalities between conflict-areas are masked politically, generating a collective amnesia. Kallat reminds viewers to be critically aware of what is made obscure, to recognise the futility of political divides, and to challenge bureaucratic apparatus that manipulate perception.
Her work has been widely exhibited across the world in venues such as Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Kennedy Centre, Washington; Vancouver Art Gallery; Saatchi Gallery, London; SESC Pompeia and SESC Belenzino in Sao Paulo; Goteborgs Konsthall, Sweden; Helsinki City Art Museum, Finland; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo; Casa Asia, Madrid and Barcelona; ZKM Karlsruhe in Germany; Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney; Hangar Bicocca, Milan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai; IVAM Museum, Spain; Busan MOMA; Kulturhuset, Stockholm; Kunsthaus Langenthal, Switzerland; Chicago Cultural Centre amongst many others and she has participated in a number of workshops and residencies. She lives and works in Mumbai.
Text courtesy Chemould Prescott Road