Reena Saini Kallat Curated

Indian Visual Artist

CURATED BY :  

This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Reena Saini Kallat have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Reena Saini Kallat's journey, experiences, achievements, advice, opinion in one place to inspire upcoming artists. All content is sourced via different platforms and have been given due credit.

  • In regard to the formal characteristics of your sculpture and painting, what are your references and inspirations?

    A lot of my work is modeled on the familiar, a pre-existing object, site or person that sparks off other associations and ideas. One alters or shifts meaning while trying to unlock and explore its potential possibilities. So there could be an inherent element of deception between what meets the eye and what underlies it. Process plays a key role in the work I enjoy making and I would like the formal and visual aspect of my work to engage the viewer in a way that it can be experienced both sensually and intellectually, provoking deeper psychological and emotional responses. Even though there are a large number of artists whose works have impacted my sensibilities towards art making at different stages, inspirations I think usually come from a wide range of sources from local crafts, film, print and television media, literature, poetry, architecture and history, including real life experiences that go well beyond the art historical context.

    View Source:

  • Can you describe to me your artistic process? Most of your work is deeply research based, speaking directly to the historical and contemporary conditions of labourers and migrants in India. What is your strategy in choosing the subjects of your work? Are there any parameters you follow?

    I think to develop an idea one needs to try and deepen one’s understanding of it, whether it is researching from books, sharing and learning through exchange with other people or gaining an experiential understanding by visiting places. At other times research can be just a silent search trying to understand something through the act of making. It is pretty much a combination of these that I employ but it is often the work directing me rather than the other way around. I began working with the rubberstamp as a medium since 2003, using it both as an object and an imprint, signifying the bureaucratic apparatus which at once confirms and obscures identities. I think of each name on the rubberstamp as being representative of an individual amidst hundreds of faceless people. The sources of reference for the names often provide meaning or give context to the different bodies of works made. In case of the series of works titled ‘Synonyms’ I chanced upon the list of names, out of official police records of those who’ve gone missing in India, through a friend who was looking for someone missing. Although the names are of those officially registered as having disappeared without a trace, only to be listed as forgotten statistics, they form portraits of migrants, people who live within the neighbourhood. I wanted the works to resonate the same sense of loss without literally being depictions of those missing. The work stands like a screen forming a portrait with several hundred rubberstamps carrying names of people rendered in scripts of over 14 Indian languages. From a distance they come together as portraits, but up-close they almost seem like a circuit-board of rubberstamps. Making these works is a slow process but one that throws up sometimes unexpected and startling results. I first draw out the silhouette of the portrait on plywood and arrange the wooden pieces that comprise the rubberstamps. After painting the portrait on the uneven surface of the rubberstamps, the names are pasted and inked. These pieces are then transferred onto the Plexiglas where some additions and omissions lend the portrait its final character.

    View Source:

  • In your work ‘White Heat (The Ironing Board)’ you refer to the highly fortified relationship that India shares with its neighbour Pakistan and the uncertain nature of the peace process between the countries. Can you develop your thoughts on this subject in relationship to this work?

    The relationship between India and Pakistan is not only fragile but fraught with tensions and the chasm of deep rooted prejudices continues to grow between Hindus and Muslims. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has been the nucleus of conflict between India and Pakistan since 1947. Its territorial form like I said earlier has begun to function as a metaphor of this strained relationship between the two countries, within my work. Both sculptures ‘White Heat (The Ironing Board)’ and ‘White Yarn (The Silt of Reason)’ are modeled after simple domestic objects. In case of ‘White Heat (the Ironing board)’ the oversized iron seems dysfunctional due to the surface being densely loaded with numerous weapon-like projections. On close observation one would find, amongst other weapons, truncated rooftops of religious monuments. The fabric that lies draped waiting to be ironed is embroidered with names of those who’ve signed the petition for peace between India and Pakistan along with multiple maps of the disputed territory between the two countries. One was in some ways engaging with the frustrations of the never-ending dialogue, where any attempts at ironing out creases in the peace process are sabotaged by conflicting interests and with the misuse of religion as a divisive tool by both countries.

    View Source:

  • Maps are recurring in your work, can you tell me about the symbolic significance of maps and borders for your work?

    Ironically, even as cultures blend with a greater movement of people and information than any moment in human history, borders have become more controlled and monitored than ever before. While maps are meant to represent, classify or characterize territories, giving definition to places based on either their geographic or political separations, I often think of the psychological barriers that hold people and places apart more than the physical borders themselves. Hence you might find reference to barriers that evoke obstacles in the movement of people or the inclusions and exclusions within the democratic apparatus in some of my works such as ‘Colour Curtain’, ‘Synonym’ or ‘Light leaks, winds meet where the waters spill defeat’ modeled on the gates at the Wagah border, between India and Pakistan. By the repeated use of the map form of the disputed territory that lies between India and Pakistan, I find it has gained almost a third meaning within my work, as if a piece of land has come to symbolise human folly.

    View Source:

  • In your new work created specifically for the Göteborg International Biennial of Contemporary Art, you are tracing the flows and movements of migrants across the world. Can you tell me about the significance of electrical wire, that you have chosen as your material for this work?

    The flows and movements of labour migrants across the world have resulted in cultural exchanges not to mention the social and economic implications. It has not only allowed to free cultural identities from a physical place but see us all as entwined in a symbolic web as it were. When I was asked to conceive of a wall work for the Konsthall during the biennale, keeping the curatorial premise in mind I decided to work with electric wires to form the drawing that will trace patterns of movement of migrants globally, where multitude of actors interact without knowledge of the overall situation. I think of this work as a drawing project made with wires that essentially transmit energy and information from one place to another. It is said that the electricity is the same in all electrical equipment, but the expression of electricity differs from one appliance to the next. By changing the instrument of this quasi-cartographic drawing from say a pencil line to a wire, I’m interested in the notion of the map as dynamic, ever changing, streaming and transferring data with the global flows of energies and people, as the courses of these travelers intersect.

    View Source:

  • Your work is highly political yet poetic and touches on a critique of India’s postcolonial constellation. Can you tell me how your art relates the inscription of memory and identity in this context?

    Memory in a strange way rearranges our thoughts and ideas without necessarily paying respect to hierarchies. It can either be a leveler or play a dangerous role by triggering and inciting responses to particular hurtful episodes from the past. There’s been a long history to the subcontinent and India has an enormous sense of self-gratifying pride embedded in the collective consciousness about being the most religiously diverse country. A national belief in a pluralist, assimilative culture is handed down to every child through the education system but this history is now tarnished with ever increasing sectarianism that is often based on old wounds being re-opened. Even if my work puts a mirror to these failings, the disillusionment is paired with optimism and hope for renewal. What often occupies my mind is the fate of an individual and how s/he is susceptible to being reduced to an anonymous and forgotten statistic, in the vast ocean of humanity.

    View Source:

  • What was the intended purpose of the barbed wire map?

    I mean it’s exactly as you said, on the one hand it symbolizes these connections, and yet on the other we know that there are inequities. It’s not necessarily this kind of all-inclusive space as we’d like to think, there are several impediments to cross, and deep rooted prejudices to overcome, so it’s as much about these obstacles. Our own experience in the city of Mumbai, where we grew up with the understanding that we live in the most religiously diverse yet secular environment, has changed in the last 2 decades. I mean the ’92 riots, 2002 riots, really put our beliefs into question. One of the key purposes I use electric wires is for these inherent contradictions that it holds, as transmitters of energy and ideas, as something that is meant to be a conduit/carrier, is also then converted into a barrier (with barbed wires). Ironically, now even as cultures are blending with a greater movement of people and information than any other moment in human history, borders have become more and more controlled and monitored than ever before. So there are many layers of contradictions this web of entanglements holds within it, which are as much a reality as these connections.

    View Source:

  • You mentioned that the map and the wire components of “Woven Chronicle” trace migration and trade routes.

    There is also another side to this, where the barbed wire can be seen as a blockade of sorts, in our idea of a cosmopolitan world, and this idyllic vision of multiculturalism that we seem to have, even though there are flaws that are ingrained in the system that prevent it from being ideal.

    View Source:

  • There are some common themes throughout your work, themes of movement, transformation, and a longing for a sense of home. This is something that can certainly apply to Indians living in India, following events like The Partition, or colonialism, and the ramifications of those. It’s also something that resonates with the South Asian diaspora, this sense of longing for a home that isn’t there anymore, that maybe isn’t the same, or that is simply not accessible to them. What’s your experience with this feeling of longing, and how do you see this theme operate throughout your work?

    The sense of belonging for me lies very much in India. I’m very rooted there because I’ve almost lived all my life in India, even if I travel quite a bit, that’s where my home is. I’m not sure if it’s really this longing to get back, but I guess there are several works that touch upon this lingering sense of past within the present, and our own changing relationship with that. So it’s not really a sense of nostalgia but a sense of continuity from the past to the present. I lost my mother when I was very young, and yet I felt she continued to play a very strong role in my life way after she left. I often think of how certain events, people, places, continue to have an effect, and play a role in our lives way beyond the time they’ve left us, like they’ve outlived their lives. So some of the text based pieces that I’ve been doing with salt on the beach, I think of as a kind of extension of the life of these texts. While salt is an essential ingredient for sustenance itself, I’m most interested in the fact that it’s a preservative and one that extends life. Of course, people have made their own associations with Gandhi’s salt act and the kind of resistance that was put forth to the British through the salt act, and in a sense I think of this as my own little way of resistance towards forgetting, through extending the life of these texts. Some of these more recent texts are based on poems from regional Indian languages written by women poets, translated into English. And I guess there is the element of surrender, where you are completely left to the forces of nature, working in collaboration with tidal calendars, and sunset timings to make these works. I often think of our own relationship to the seas having evolved from the pre-Cambrian seas. And yet the salt comes from the sea, its a kind of return to the sea, there is that cyclical nature of things which very much finds its way in my work.

    View Source:

  • There are quite a number of people involved in creating your work. In your piece, “Untitled Cobweb” you have names of people who have been denied Visas into other countries actually printed on the stamps that make up the cobweb. You also have some interactive pieces where people become part of the work. With “Woven Chronicle,” a group of migrant workers helped you physically build the map. How essential are these people to your overall work, and where did the idea for collaboration come from?

    It first began in some early pieces, like in 2003 or 2004, when I started working with the rubber-stamp, which is so much a part of the bureaucratic apparatus that confirms, and obscures, that is a way of endorsing or obliterating. But when I started working with that medium, I was often working out of official records. So right from sourcing names, to forming lists, cataloging and customizing rubber stamps to then painting each piece with 3 coats of paint, and placing them together to be pasted, I realized that I needed help, because I was taking 3 months to do one piece. So now I do have a team of 3 people in the studio, one of whom has been with me for like about 8, 9 years, maybe even 10. So I think it is really grew out of the nature of the work sort of calling for assistance. I’m usually careful about using the word “collaboration” because it’s not an equal platform for creative input as much, so I don’t always call it collaborative work unless it empowers the person whose working alongside me to be as much a part of the decision making process. But this interactive element has really grown in some pieces unintentionally. The more recent salt pieces I did in Korea or in other places, due to the language barrier, people would just assume that they must join in and I thought that was so nice. It wasn’t planned as something where I would invite people to come but they would just watch me working on the salt text, and even the performative element was not necessarily intended, you know I just wanted to make the text and allow it to dissipate and disappear, and I wanted to disappear, but while I’m making it people tend to gather, and join in. Its really lovely how unexpectedly in the public space things take on a new life, the conditions around which do happen that are beyond your control, and what is nice is when you actually surrender to the conditions around you, and are more fluid and organic about how things develop and take new forms, and that’s perhaps one of the things I enjoy most about working in these spaces with these people, who are not necessarily from the art community, but who really come forward and enrich the work. I often make this analogy between art that gets shown within the confines of the white cube with a restricted audience against that which is presented to a larger public, to a potted plant living in artificial light indoors and one that grows in its natural surroundings, nourished by sunlight and all of the other conditions that shape the work. I almost feel like I’m a catalyst, where things just emerge out of their own.

    View Source:

  • Why did you showcase this piece, Woven Chronicle, in Vancouver?

    For Offsite we had been discussing a few works, and Diana, the curator of this project, felt that somehow this piece had a resonance with Vancouver, which is most diverse in terms of ethnicity’s, and is really a point of convergence. This piece also has a very strong sound component, which comprises of high voltage electric current, drowned with deep sea drone sounds, there are factory sirens, ship horns, communication tones like engaged tones, and some migrating birds, so it’s a very layered soundscape. And I now understand what [Diana] meant, because to me, public art has always been something that I’m very weary about, because I often feel that it can be an imposition on space, unless it really is sensitive to the environment around it, to the people who inhabit the neighbourhood. And I think its a great way to do these temporary exhibitions, which are constantly changing but it also allows people to have a say in what they like, what they dislike, it allows them to question things. So for me it’s always been really important to be able to work beyond the defined perimeters of the art community, and see the interface with the larger public. I think the water body adds a completely new dimension to the piece and the way you sort of [laughs, pointing out of the window at the installation, where a few people are chasing each other through the body of water] access and experience this piece because of how and where it’s located, at the crossroads of where people converge.

    View Source:

  • Tell us about “Woven Chronicle.”

    The work actually evolved in 2011, when I was invited to be part of the Goteborg International Biennial of Contemporary Art. Curated by Sarat Maharaj, it was called Pandemonium – Art in a Time of Creativity Fever. Sarat was referring to John Milton’s essay Paradise Lost, which reflects on chaos and disorder that is at the same time about the emergence of new worlds and the conditions that allow for transformation and creative emergence. I was interested in working with yarn, the trade between India and Sweden and from thinking of yarn, I eventually arrived at working with electric wires, or cables, that would be treated like yarn, to form the work. So I began tracing migrant routes, historically going from indentured labour, to the different kinds of migrants, whether they’re settlers, contract workers, professionals, asylum seekers or refugees. While wires are meant to be transmitters of energy, flows of exchange and ideas, they in this case are converted into barbed wire and cables, and fencing. These kind of inherent contradictions that the work seems to hold within it was something I was interested in working around.

    View Source:

  • What will come next after this pandemic?

    This period will leave an indelible mark. In the near term, as the pandemic compels us towards physical distancing, it perhaps will make it more urgent for us to devise meaningful ways of connecting virtually. I think we may see a transformation in the ideas that artists pursue but also, more importantly, in the structure and possibilities of art. It’s a time for a re-examination of our ways of living and working which can lead to fundamental shifts in our imagination.

    View Source:

  • How are artists generally coping in Mumbai? In Sydney there are challenges because the economy has slowed, but there is more optimism now that galleries are reopening, isn't there?

    I feel like the situation in India is different from Australia and some other countries, since historically we haven’t had much of a public infrastructure for the arts. In trying to fill the gap, artists themselves have set up peer-support movements helping other artists get through the crisis, while galleries have created shared platforms to work more collaboratively. This is a time for thinking innovatively and creating a pool of resources which can support various forms of cultural practice, whether literature, music, theatre or art writing, because the space for these might suddenly shrink. Those of us who’ve worked for nearly 25 years in the field, like me, realise that there were moments when opportunities had to be created. You couldn’t wait for something to happen. New paths had to be built. Having said that, it’s also imperative to create a safety net for young and very nascent practices that tend to be most affected and most vulnerable.

    View Source:

  • Do you think crisis generates compelling art?

    I can’t help but think of Shakespeare as a fine example of someone who survived four plague outbreaks in his lifetime. When he was 42, the plague closed down theatres, forcing him away from production, and that’s when he wrote some of his master works of tragedy and introspection (King Lear, Macbeth) which dwell in the deepest realms of paranoia and human solitude. Art has always been a chronicle of the times and it can’t be any different today.

    View Source:

  • The writer Jennifer Higgie remarks, in her recent essay for Together In Art, that we need to focus less on the global and more on the different ‘locals’ that each of us inhabits. With that in mind, please tell us where your studio is located? Did you have to close it? Are you working there at the moment?

    My studio is in Byculla in central Mumbai, a 45-minute drive from where we live in the suburb of Bandra. Even before the official lockdown I made the decision to close the studio for the safety of the few studio assistants I have working with me. The studio complex comprises two sheds linked through a common terrace that I share with my husband Jitish, who’s also an artist. Besides this we have a second studio which is an old house, right across the street from where we live. I’m incredibly grateful to be able to spend time here these days and continue making my work.

    View Source:

  • Woven Chronicle explored how people moved all over the world and articulated lines of travel across borders, by way of electronic communication and physical movement. As countries now close borders, has the world become a smaller place?

    Woven Chronicle was commissioned for your exhibition Fearless, which celebrated diverse cultures and geographies while questioning the politics of borders and migration. And it was within that framework that I chose to make a ‘south-up’ map which also traced the movements of migrants historically. We know that no single projection of the world is more correct than the other. It is the shift in our own vantage point that changes the way we see the world. By conducting this cartographic exercise with electrical wire instead of a pencil line, I was trying to explore the idea of the map as dynamic, ever-changing, streaming and transferring data with the global flows of energies and people. As a material, electrical wire is a conduit – a carrier of data and energy – but begins to bear contradictory meanings when woven as barbed wire fences. The work reflects on the rise of narrow nationalism amidst the many conversations across borders through technology. Today, even as we tighten national borders amidst fears of the virus travelling through our bodies, we increasingly realise our interdependence. Everything which affects some of us almost immediately affects all of us.

    View Source:

  • How has the pandemic situation affected you personally?

    Personally speaking, I find going into isolation a time for reflection, which I periodically enjoy. Normally it’s a self-imposed choice to insulate oneself from the external noise and bring focus while redirecting energies towards a new project. For those of us who have the security of staying in the comfort of our homes, this phase has allowed us the time to pause, to pare down and think of what’s important not just to art but our lives in general. At a time when critical resources are stretched and freedoms shrink, our values, our beliefs are tested. But I have to say that my work life seems inconsequential when viewed against the more urgent and pressing issues concerning people’s lives and livelihoods. It has taken me time to reboot and get on my feet again. Continuing to stay absorbed in my work through this period, and keeping in touch with the people closest to me, has helped mitigate the feeling of falling into despair.

    View Source:

  • How would you measure success as an artist?

    I have always believed that the yardsticks used to measure success change with the passage of time and perhaps history will be re-written several times to make relevant or redundant certain artists and works. As an artist, if I have been able to bring form and content together imaginatively and meaningfully, I would consider myself to be a good catalyst in achieving this successfully.

    View Source:

  • Do you consider your nationality and gender to be relevant in your art practice?

    Our ideas and understanding of the world are definitely shaped by who we are, and where we may be located on the planet, so I am certainly aware of how my experience of being a woman contributes and informs the work I make – even though through the work I try and explore ideas that look beyond nationality and other stereotypes.

    View Source:

  • There is an ingenious use of salt in a lot of your work – ‘Cycles of Eternal Recurrence,’ ‘Wash your guilt build a memorial,’ and ‘Saline Notations,’ among others). Please explain the significance each time.

    Salt, an essential ingredient of sustenance and of life itself, is intimately linked with its capacity to preserve. In my work, it perhaps serves as a reminder of our fragile relationship with the natural environment. I first began working with salt in 2013, when I was invited to conceive of a sculpture for the Hein Art Project in Korea, where I had wanted to carry the imprint of the sculpture of a rubber stamp in salt outdoors at various sites between the temple and the museum… these would appear and disappear as people would walk over the texts as I recreated them. ‘Saline Notations’ has an element of surrender; the notations’ submission to the variables of nature incorporates time as a crucial element in their making. On the beach, I work with tidal calendars, sunset timings that become my collaborators. I often think of our relationship to the sea and the salinity levels of the body, having evolved from the Precambrian seas. The conditions under which these works are made are constantly changing, where momentarily an idea is made manifest, shared – after which it is lost (the photograph being an evidence of these salt texts before they dissipate or dissolve back into the sea). ‘Saline Notations (Echoes)’ is a 6 part photo-piece realized on the beach. In my work, the text inscribed using salt unfolds a soliloquy that submerges with a rising tide.

    View Source:

  • Your recent exhibition Hyphenated Lives is extremely relevant in contemporary politics and nationalism, and you have considered the histories of many regions. Please walk us through the key pieces from this exhibition

    Hyphenated Lives dwells on the co-existence of varied and sometimes conflicting ideas, not just within the self, but between two people, neighbors, and possibly two countries with gaps in transmission – the in-between spaces left for interpretation. Hyphens are like glue, one that binds things together, serving here more than as a linguistic device. I felt the need to turn to species other than the human race to tell us how to share the planet, where the existence of one species depends on the other or the disappearance of one affects the other adversely. These can be seen as a defiance of nature in acknowledging the man-made divisions on the ground – as poetic provocations from the past or a proposition for an imagined future when indeed they may re-unite.

    View Source:

  • As you have exhibited at some of most prestigious venues and museums around the world, what do you consider your landmark exhibition?

    The outdoor public project that I am currently exhibiting at the Vancouver Art Gallery has been very well received. The work was conceived with electric wires to form a drawing that will trace migration patterns globally where multitudes of actors interact without knowledge of the overall situation. By changing the instrument of this quasi-cartographic drawing from a pencil line to a wire, I’m interested in the notion of the map as dynamic, ever-changing, streaming and transferring data with the global flows of energies and people, as the courses of these travelers intersect. The audio component resonates with high-voltage electric current sounds drowned within deep-sea ambient sounds, slow electric pulses, the hum of engaged tones from telecommunications, mechanical-sounding drone, factory sirens, sand hip horns intermingle with migratory bird sounds.

    View Source:

  • Critical interpretation of history is inherent in many of your previous works. Please give us an insight into your research process.

    I think it is much more a self-reflective critical journey rather than a moralizing process of trying to enunciate what is right or wrong. Through my work I am often questioning some of our own beliefs through years of conditioning. For instance, the current exhibition makes inquiries into our ideas of independence and interdependence and the means we adopt to attain them, which are often self-destructive and can come at the cost of our own needs, while it is possible to have a healthy, independent co-existence. For this exhibition, I have been reading and researching on countries that may have been partitioned but continue to share their natural world and thus various natural resources: India and Pakistan, Ireland/UK, Israel/Palestine, North and South Korea, Macedonia/Yugoslavia, Croatia/Serbia, Austria and Hungary, US and Mexico or US and Cuba. What usually begins with sharing of the common waters of rivers that run between borders, finally leads to the partitioning of the rivers. Whether it is the case with the river Indus between India and Pakistan, the Rio Grande that flows between the US and Mexico, the GBM (Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna) basin between Bangladesh and India, or the Jordan River between Palestine and Israel. It is interesting to reflect on how national symbols were meant to unite people from a particular region, and we start claiming ownership to natural forms that are native to a particular land when we cannot look beyond narrow nationalism.

    View Source:

  • You work across media – painting, photography, video, sculpture, and installation – and often incorporate multiple media into a single work. How do you select the medium? Is it pre-planned, or does it come spontaneously as your work progresses?

    For me personally the process seems to shuttle between the content or conceived ideas giving shape to form, which is largely a more conceptually driven process – and sometimes the reverse, where the potential possibilities of the medium inspire metaphors and ideas.The medium is a channel that comes with its own probabilities and limitations. The final decision is usually a well considered one but mostly intuitive, depending on the needs of the work – its relationship not just with the viewer but other works with which it might share space.

    View Source:

  • You are one of the most acclaimed artists from India and are constantly experimenting and challenging yourself in your work. Before we get into that, please tell us a little about your childhood, and what inspired you to make art into a career.

    My approach has always been focused on developing my art rather than working towards a career. All through my childhood years I enjoyed spending my time making things with papier-mâché, stitching, embroidering, drawing, and painting but never saw these interests as culminating into taking up art as a professional career. It was my father who recognized I had many other interests related to the arts. I think getting introduced to the lives of other artists and their ways of thinking inspired and left an impression on my brother Rajiv (Architect Rajiv Saini) and me.

    View Source: