25 February 2024

Exhibition Opening - Can You Hear Me?

by Nalini Malani

Part of Alserkal Art Week

Starts 5:00 pm

Venue Concrete


‘It’s not a moral thing, like a duty, but there’s so much injustice that you have to speak out; it comes from the heart.’

(Malani, interview with Hettie Judah in Art Quarterly, Winter 2020)

Textual and visual quotations, annotations and snippets of sound and music — what the artist calls ‘thought bubbles’— come together, intersect, and are taken apart in Nalini Malani’s ‘animation chamber’, a powerful expression of outrage against the persistence of social violence and global injustice. Malani draws upon a lifetime of consistent engagement, across cultures, with the art and literature of conscience and resistance; her memory bank of quotes and palimpsest of visual references range from Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Samuel Beckett to Hannah Arendt and Goya, from Sita and Draupadi to Medea, Alice and Cassandra, female archetypes that the artist has made her own through drawing and redrawing them, shifting and reimprinting their narrative arcs through her layered practice of combining word and text with still and moving images. These voices and figures, expressing fear, anguish, anger and betrayal, become a chorus against historic injustice, particularly patriarchal and systemic violence, coalescing here in a nine-channel video installation of 88 iPad hand drawn animations made from 2018-2020. Projected large-scale in this immersive iteration within Concrete, this work inhabits the architectural expanse of the space with unprecedented theatrical impact.

At the centre of this audio-visual sensorium is the voice of a little girl; while this work was inspired by a news story of one horrific incident, it is one of many failures of our time to protect the most vulnerable. In evoking the voices of a collective conscience, Malani warns us that the modern and progressive promise to create a better world remains not simply unfulfilled, but is at risk of being irredeemably broken.

This presentation of Can You Hear Me? will be accompanied by a series of outdoor screenings of an adapted version of Nalini Malani’s new work, Ballad of a Woman, a 5-minute single channel stop motion animation hand-drawn on iPad.

This playful yet jarring animation is inspired by Alfred Jarry’s theatre play Ubu Roi and Wislawa Szymborska’s ‘honest Ballad, penned neither to shock nor to offend’. Nalini Malani questions a world in which our complacency allows for a world of deep and absurd inequity, between race and gender, and throughout society. While remaining accessible, her work also reminds us that the role of the artist and intellectual is to serve as our social conscience, bringing to light and contesting suffering that can no longer be ignored, nor repressed.

Curated by Nada Raza. Presented by Alserkal Avenue with support from Volte Art Projects.

Opening, Concrete
5PM | 25 February

Artist & Curator Talk, Project Space WH50
6PM | 25 February

Outdoor Projection, Concrete
Ballad of a Woman, Nalini Malani
7PM | 25 February

Accompanying Can You Hear Me? will be a series of outdoor screenings of an adapted version of Nalini Malani’s seminal work, Ballad of a Woman, a paean to the horrors of war and imperialism.

About the Artist

(b.1946, Karachi, Undivided India; lives and works in Bombay*)

Nalini Malani completed a Diploma in Fine Arts from the Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay in 1969 and received a French Government Scholarship for Fine Arts to study in Paris from 1970 to 1972. In 2010 she was conferred an Honorary Doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute. Prizes include: Fukuoka Prize for Arts and Culture, 2013; St. Moritz Art Masters Lifetime Achievement Award, 2014; Asian Art Game Changers Award, Hong Kong, 2016; Joan Miró Prize, Barcelona, 2019; the first National Gallery Contemporary Fellowship, London, 2020 and in the Kyoto Prize in Arts & Philosophy in 2023.

As the pioneer of video art in India, Nalini Malani has a fifty-year multi ­media practice that includes film, photography, painting, Wall Drawing/Erasure Performance, theatre, animation and Video/Shadow Play. Embodying the role of the artist as a social activist, Malani gives voice to the marginalised through her visual stories. She draws inspiration from history, culture and her direct experience of the Partition of India to look at themes of violence, feminism, politics, racial tension and social inequality, exploring in particular the repressive powers of the state.

Starting out as a filmmaker and photographer after graduating from the Sir J. J. School of Art, Malani broke again out of the classical painting frame in the late 1980s to reach a wider audience, as a protest against the rise of orthodoxy in politics. A leading experimental artist in India, Malani’s committed art practice reveals a search for the profound certainties in life, society and experience-persisting ‘evidence’. In her art she places inherited iconographies and cherished cultural stereotypes under pressure. Her point of view is unwaveringly urban and inter nationalist, and unsparing in its condemnation of a cynical nationalism that exploits the beliefs of the masses. As an ‘artist’s artist’ she has inspired the next generation of young artists in the sub-continent.

Malani’s work has been celebrated in more than 200 international museum presentations, under which five retrospectives, twenty solo exhibitions and 22 biennales around the world, and has been acquired by more than thirty international institutions including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate, London; Musée national d’art moderne - Centre Pompidou, Paris; M+, Hong Kong; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.