Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents

Nalini Malani: Crossing Boundaries

The first-ever Canadian solo exhibition by one of India’s most important contemporary artists

The exhibition showcases the profound and powerfully engaged works of Malani, who has been addressing social inequalities and violence for more than 50 years, giving voice to the subjugated, marginalized, and oppressed, especially women.

Nalini Malani

Nalini Malani, Castello di Rivoli, Italy, 2018.
© Nalini Malani. Photo Johan Pijnappel

Born in 1946 in Karachi (then undivided India and now Pakistan) Nalini Malani is one of the most critically acclaimed Indian artists working today. Recognized as a pioneer in her field since the 1960s, Malani has developed a unique multi-media practice that encompasses video, film, animation, painting, drawing and immersive installations. Winner of the 2019 Joan-Miró Prize, she has notably presented her work in thirty solo museum exhibitions worldwide, including most recently at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Whitechapel Gallery, London, M+, Hong Kong and the National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, and the National Gallery, London.

“Nalini Malani: Crossing Boundaries decries complacency in the face of inequality and encourages collective engagement with the most pressing concerns of our time,” explains Mary-Dailey Desmarais, Chief Curator of the MMFA and exhibition curator. “Steeped in literature, philosophy, history and mythology, Malani’s unique visual language asks us to reflect on both the beauty and the injustice in the world. The MMFA is proud to be presenting the first solo exhibition in Canada dedicated to this boldly innovative and engaged artist.”

Detail of the installation Can You Hear Me? by Nalini Malani, 2018–2020, 9-channel animation chamber, with 88 hand-drawn iPad animations, sound. Collection of the artist. © Nalini Malani. Photo MBAM, Jean-François Brière

Crossing Boundaries brings together three of her major recent works. The first, Can You Hear Me? (2018-2020), is an immersive nine-channel animation chamber consisting of 88 animations hand-drawn with the artist’s index finger on an iPad. The installation was inspired by the violent rape and death of an eight-year-old girl at the hands of eight Indian men in 2018. Tragically, the child’s voice went unheard. For Malani, the girl’s death is symbolic of the many injustices suffered by women across the globe. Marking her first use of digital technology to make drawings, this work is described by Malani as the human mind full of turmoil, fantasies and ideas. Literary characters and mythological figures, accompanied by curious sounds, overlap with allusions to political events, personal thoughts and fragments of text by leading writers from diverse cultural backgrounds that together address global issues of social injustice, including gender inequality, civil conflict and cultural hegemony.

The second work is a new in situ iteration of the artist’s ongoing Wall Drawing/Erasure Performance series, City of Desires (1992-2023), which uses drawing and erasure to explore the politics and poetics of memory. Materializing processes of remembrance and forgetting, this performative drawing prompts powerful reflection on the fragility of our shared traditions and experiences. Anchoring the project in the Montreal community, Malani has selected two Montreal-based artists, Iuliana Irimia and Cassandra Dickie, to collaborate on the drawing of the mural. The artwork will be on view at a busy junction in the Museum located close to the Contemporary Art Square. When the exhibition closes, the drawings will be erased in a performance directed by Malani.

Finally, the video Ballad of a Woman (2023), a major work created specially for the exhibition, will be projected on the facade of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, as part of the MMFA’s Digital Canvas project. This hand- drawn animation tells the story of a woman who is murdered and, in her afterlife, cleans up the traces of her death, protecting her killer. For Malani, this act after death symbolizes the undue burden of self-sacrifice borne by women since time immemorial. In this major new work, the bold colours, dramatic movement and dynamic lines of the film camouflage its darker message, like so many of life’s distractions that make suffering harder to discern.

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