Nalini Malani in her studio in Bombay (Photo credit: Johan Pijnappel)

AN INDIAN artist has expressed her delight at becoming the inaugural National Gallery contemporary fellow, which will see her create new art for UK exhibitions in 2022-2023.

Nalini Malani is the recipient of the first Contemporary Fellowship awarded by London’s National Gallery, announced last Thursday (25).

It will see Malani take part in a two-year research, production, and exhibition programme, allowing her to collaborate with specialists of both the National Gallery and the Holburne Museum in Bath. The 74-year-old artist is also expected to create new art for an exhibition in Bath and London during 2022-23.

In an interview with Eastern Eye, Malani spoke of her excitement for the project and her plans for the two-year programme.

“It’s quite amazing, I’m still processing it,” the Mumbai-based artist laughed. “I took a day to decide because it would mean travelling back and forth to London and Bath to work on things that might interest me there, but I realised this would be a great moment to really delve deep into the collections.

“All in all, I am looking forward to it and I will be thinking about what I’m going to be doing over the next two years.”

Malani is not sure yet of the type of work she will produce for the exhibitions, but she “has lots of ideas bouncing around in (her) head”. “I don’t know what will come out of it, but the process of working with different people there and getting a lot out of their expertise is what I’m most looking forward to,” she said.

Although Malani has stayed in London on a number of occasions – her last trip to the capital was in 2018 – she has yet to visit Bath. “I know Bath only through literature, so it will be an interesting experience,” the award-winning artist said.

Malani is regarded as a “pioneer of video art” in India, having created an array of immersive installations, theatre and ephemeral wall drawings for a number of galleries and museums. Her work is known for its themes of transnational politics, the impact of globalisation, and the examination of gender roles.

Nalini Malani stands with one of her art installations dOCUMENTA(13)

The artist also has a particular interest for giving a voice to the stories of those marginalised by history, especially women. “There have been a lot of women who have actually contributed to civilisation itself and often, they have not been recognised,” she explained, noting her personal interest in Indian and Greek mythology.

Working as a female artist in India has changed over the years, Malani said. Women are doing excellent work now, she said, and being recognised for what they do. That is very different to when she was a young woman, she revealed.

“In my early years, it was extremely difficult (for women) to have our work in galleries and shows,” she recalled. “Back then, a few female artists and I decided to get together and show our work outside the gallery space, taking our work to different cities and travelling with our artwork on the trains.

“It was with a poverty of means that we managed to show our work in non-commercial places, where we didn’t have to pay gallery commissions.”

Reflecting on her time in art school – she graduated from Mumbai’s prestigious Sir JJ School in 1969 – Malani remembers it being “pretty old fashioned”.

Some of her fondest memories of her studies were in Paris, where she won a scholarship to study for two and-a-half years.

“It was a time when young people were very politically engaged with things and you could have coffee with (French writer) Simone de Beauvoir or (French philosopher) Jean-Paul Sartre,” she said. “They were never on their high horse – they were very accessible and roaming the streets and going to demonstrations. Paris, at that time, was the university of my life.”

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