Asia Society Museum Presents Two India-Related Exhibitions

Installation view of Transgressions, 2001.

Asia Society Museum presents Nalini Malani: Transgressions, an exhibition of work by one of India’s foremost contemporary artists.

Nalini Malani was born in 1946 in Karachi before the Partition of India in 1947. She is based in Mumbai and Amsterdam and her work — which spans mediums of painting, sculpture, installation, performance, and works on paper — utilizes allegory and symbolism to explore issues relating to gender, class, and race in a postcolonial world.

The exhibition features Transgressions II, 2009, a multimedia installation from the Asia Society Museum Collection. This three-channel video integrates the folk sensibility of traditional shadow plays with new technology, creating a mesmerizing projection of colors and imagery.

In Transgressions II, three videos are projected through four transparent Lexan cylinders, which the artist has painted in a manner that references the Kalighat style — practiced in Bengal in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — which often commented on topical events. As the cylinders rotate, images of a wrathful female deity, boxers, and animals inspired by Edward Said’s Orientalism create an ever-shifting tableau on the gallery walls. The imagery is accompanied by a recording of a poem written by the artist.

The exhibition also features a selection of Malani’s artist books, which emphasize the importance of drawing and painting to the artist’s practice, as well as highlight the techniques and themes she uses in other mediums. For example, Heiroglyphs of Lohar Chawl is a companion work to a series of drawings and paintings that focus on the south central Mumbai neighborhood of Lohar Chawl, where the artist had a studio in the 1980s and 1990s.

Malani was trained as a painter at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Mumbai (1964–1969) and became known as a pioneer in India in the 1980s for her focus on feminist issues, and later in the early 1990s for her innovative theater and installation projects. Her multimedia projects feature recurring themes around the subjects of gender, memory, race, and transnational politics, especially in reference to India’s postcolonial history after independence and partition. The artist often draws upon stories from Hindu and Greek mythology, nineteenth-century so-called literary nonsense writing, and early-twentieth-century experimental theater to create allegories for present-day events.

The exhibition is curated by Michelle Yun, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Asia Society.

To coincide with Nalini Malani: Transgressions, Asia Society Museum presents Tales of Wonder: Selections from the Asia Society Museum Collection. The exhibition comprises a selection of dynamic sculptures and paintings that, through imagery, directly or indirectly allude to tales from ancient scriptures and Indian epics, and provide context for some of the imagery and references in Malani’s work.

Fantastic legends surround the plethora of deities that populate the Indian religious traditions commonly referred to as Hinduism. The protagonists of these stories — like the gods of Greek mythology — engage in love and war among themselves, and intervene in human affairs. The sources for these stories range from the ancient religious hymns, ritual texts, and philosophical treatises published in the Vedas and Upanishads, to great epics like the Ramayana (Deeds of Rama) and the Mahabharata (Great Story of India).

Drawn from the Asia Society’s permanent collection, the sculptures and paintings on view come from regions of India as diverse as Tamil Nadu in the south and Kashmir in the north. The objects date between the eighth and seventeenth century. Some of the sculptures were commissioned for temples and others were primarily used in religious processions.

Included in the exhibition is a large seventeenth-century cloth painting made to hang in a temple behind the sculpture of the god Krishna. Titled The Rainy Season, this exquisite watercolor, gold, and silver painting is on view for the first time following its recent conservation. The painting depicts gopis (village milk maids) presenting offerings of garlands, fans, and fly whisks to Krishna beneath a sky filled with birds and winged angels.

The Tales of Wonder exhibition is curated by Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Curator for Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society.


Support for Asia Society Museum is provided by Asia Society Contemporary Art Council, Asia Society Friends of Asian Arts, Arthur Ross Foundation, Sheryl and Charles R. Kaye Endowment for Contemporary Art Exhibitions, Hazen Polsky Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

About Asia Society Museum

Asia Society Museum presents a wide range of traditional and contemporary exhibitions of Asian and Asian American art, taking new approaches to familiar masterpieces and introducing under-recognized arts and artists. The Asia Society Museum Collection comprises a traditional art collection that includes the initial bequests of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, and a contemporary art collection.

Founded in 1956, Asia Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational institution headquartered in New York with new state-of-the-art cultural centers and gallery spaces in Hong Kong and Houston, and offices in Los Angeles, Manila, Mumbai, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, and Washington, DC.

Asia Society Museum is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City.

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