The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Metaphors of contemporary realities

Reena Saini and Jitish Kallat are collaborating on a billboard in the Kala Ghoda District of Mumbai along with poor children. This husband-and-wife team has done this earlier in Sydney with children from a more privileged background. They are both from Mumbai, personable, warm, extremely articulate and young — yet to reach 30. However, as individual artists, their practice is quite divergent. This is quite evident from their exhibition that opens at Galerie 88 on Friday.

All the world, and not forgetting cyberspace, is a repository of images for them. But even when their choice falls on traditional iconography, as Reena’s does, it is only to stand it on its head. For, their work has a strong contemporary relevance, and this is reflected in everything — from the way they handle paint to the manner in which their different constructs bear out their evolving views on life as they live it.

Reena says initially, she looked at various issues of housing, the quality of life in a city and the ephemeral nature of things through installations and light boxes with an overlay of meanings. Then, in a series, she tried to reinvent the myth of Kalki, the avatar of Vishnu who would exterminate evil. For Reena, he is reincarnated as a humble fisherman holding a line with the various forms of “national” life depicted in it. “I took traditional motifs and relocated them in contemporary life,” she says.

In this portfolio, Vishnu is reborn as woman with snaky tresses. These could have been images appropriated from kalamkari or Ravi Varma but their sexual ambivalence brings them forward to our splintered reality. She plays the same game with the Pied Piper luring away terrorists, archaeological frieze fashion.

From an obsession with advertising, Jitish, one of the best known young artists in India, worked “head-on”, creating “teasing graphiti-like work” and self-images. Gradually, he became more socially engaged as, in one large work, he included a map made of human forms. The wordplay in his captions (“Siamese twine”) was reflected in his visual puns. The use of industrial paint itself became a “material metaphor.” He often chipped off paint and burnt it with a blowtorch. In his current Collateral Damage, he used a vacuum cleaner to splatter the wet acrylic paint like blood on the surface of paper. So, even smiling portraits look as if they are about to explode. Here, Jitish becomes the “perpetrator” who could have had a hand in the Mumbai blasts. As in his series on commuters, the violence in everyday life spares nobody.

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