Nalini Malani: Gamepieces
Art Gallery of South Australia

Born in 1946 in Karachi, Malani came to India as a refugee during the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan. This childhood experience of displacement as a refugee heavily underpins her internationally acclaimed practice.

“My practice has been, and still is, to constantly experiment with materials and ways of expression to confront the audience with my critically engaged, art,” she says.

Drawn from AGSA’s collection, as well as key loans from other public Australian collections, Gamepieces traverses many mediums. Audiences can experience the full breadth of Malani’s practice, including film, photography, painting and video/shadow play.

The artist’s most recent work, Can You Hear Me?, consists of 88 stop-motion iPad animations projected at scale in a total room installation. Hand-drawn images are presented with fragments of text to create what the artist describes as “Animation Chambers”. These frenzied images greet the viewer at the exhibition’s entrance, indicating what might lie ahead.

Installation view: Nalini Malani: Gamepieces, featuring Can You Hear Me? by Nalini Malani, AGSA. Photo: Saul Steed

Audiences encounter works such as the single-channel digital piece In Search of Vanished Blood, named after a poem by the revolutionary Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Projected onto one of the gallery walls, with the other three adorned with a collage of financial newspapers, it highlights the theme of violence and the suppression of female voices.

Installation view: Nalini Malani: Gamepieces, featuring In Search of Vanished Blood by Nalini Malani, AGSA. Photo: Saul Steed

Other works include the centrepiece, a fascinating four-channel video installation titled Gamepieces, 2003-20, which highlights Malani’s signature video/shadow plays. Conceived in direct response to the nuclear testing in India and Pakistan in 1998, the work (pictured top) embodies her devotion to social, feminist and environmental justice, and is a standout.

Walking into the space you are immediately mesmerised by the sensory display of Gamepieces. This is a deliberate tactic by the artist to draw you in with the beauty of the aesthetic presentation before then witnessing the tragedy of war. Hanging from the ceiling are six individually painted rotating Mylar cylinders through which four video projections throw light, causing a panoramic shadow play combined with the moving video images. The cylinders are reverse-painted with mystical creatures while the projections include footage of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This imagery glides across surfaces as well as the viewer, and coupled with a soundscape, it creates an immersive experience.

Installation view: Nalini Malani: Gamepieces, AGSA. Photo: Saul Steed

Also on display are the artist’s earliest experiments in film and camera-less photography from 1969. These geometric studies in light and form are the basis for Malani’s future experiments. By placing paper cut-outs under the enlarger for lengths of time and exposing photosensitive bromide paper to light, she created images that have stood the test of time.

Other works featured are photographs of Gandhi sourced by the artist, as well as a selection of drawings from the Mutant B series. This series was part of the Second Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery in 1996, the first time the artist showed in Australia.

The works selected for Gamepieces provide audiences with some insight into the eclectic career of one of India’s most progressive visual artists. The exhibition is a politically charged feast for the senses that shouldn’t be missed.

Nalini Malani: Gamepieces is at the Art Gallery of South Australia until January 22, 2023.

Installation view: Nalini Malani: Gamepieces, featuring Unity in Diversity by Nalini Malani, AGSA. Photo: Saul Steed

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