Nalini Malani’s radical vision


Rhana Devenport, director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, first met artist Nalini Malani in India when Devenport was conducting research for the 1996 Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. “Since that time, Nalini and I have done a number of projects together and for me, her work always pushes and pulls between acute beauty and devastating truth.”

Tracing Malani’s practice from the 1960s onwards, Devenport has curated Gamepieces—a broad cross section of Malani’s multidisciplinary oeuvre encompassing photography, shadow plays, reverse paintings and installation. Born in 1946 in Karachi, Pakistan, Malani is heavily influenced by her childhood experiences as a refugee of Partition, when British India divided into India and Pakistan, violently displacing 10-20 million people across both countries. As a result, much of her work focuses on issues related to social, feminist and environmental justice.

The central work and title piece of the exhibition, Gamepieces, 2003-20, is a monumental four-channel video installation made of visual projections and six cylinders made from mylar, a transparent polyester film. Painted directly onto the mylar surfaces are numerous fantastical creatures referencing nuclear testing that took place in India and Pakistan in 1998. “Always with Nalini there is a call to both ecological and political justice, and a commentary on the great political forces,” says Devenport.

Reflecting on the diverse content of Gamepieces, Devenport explains, “Within each room there is a lot of complexity, which I think is testimony to her rich-ness as an artist. There is the uncompromising radicality of her vision combined with an informed, intelligently researched understanding of political and social forces. But there is also her playfulness, her poetry, and her conviction that the power of art and the independent voice still have cogency and agency in the world.

Nalini Malani
Art Gallery of South Australia
5 November—22 January 2023

This article was originally published in the November/December 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Briony Downes