The Game

The Game
signed, titled and dated 'The Game N. Malani. '05' (lower right)
reverse painting in watercolor, acrylic and enamel on mylar
60 1/8 x 25 in. (152.7 x 63.5 cm.)
Executed in 2005
Bose Pacia, New York, 2005-06
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Lot Essay

Born in Karachi, Nalini Malani moved to Calcutta shortly before the partition of the subcontinent. Her work is influenced by her family’s experiences as refugees during that time, focusing on turbulent themes of memory, global politics and identity issues through a meditative and poetic idiom. Asserting the postcolonial’s claim to the indigenous and the ‘other’ as an active process of decolonization, Malani is unapologetic in her appropriation of imagery from a multitude of cultures and time periods.

In her paintings on clear mylar, Malani uses the Eighteenth Century Chinese technique of reverse painting to create images of moving figures. This technique, which she learned from fellow artist Bhupen Khakhar, involves applying layers of paint in reverse order, beginning with the figures and then moving on to the background, then turning the sheet over to view the final painting. For Malani, this process of painting the final touches first represents a subversion of conventions, allowing her to “unlearn art school, where you learn to build up layers of oil paint.” (S. Seervai, ‘Listening to the Shades,’ Wall Street Journal, 7 December 2013, accessed December 2018) In the act of reversing the surface, the artist’s expressive brushstrokes are put at a distance and shielded behind the clear mylar, denying the fetishizing of the bodies on display and encouraging the viewer to focus on the composition as a whole.

Malani’s work, often incorporating deliberately unsettling iconography, challenges the notion of marginalized voices being offered a space in the narrative of history only when presented in a palatable guise. Her images lie in an interstitial space between familiarity and illusiveness resisting easy readings. “In her recent paintings on mylar, Malani’s figures are not only presented as though with a loose mantle of paint that can be sloughed off; rather, it is as though the body is essentially reconstituted from a primeval sludge accumulated through centuries of bloodletting. These bodies are translucently thin, tenuously holding their form as bodies as though through some accidental coagulation of the viscous mess we have learned to call history/the world.” (C. Sambrani, ‘Apocalypse recalled: the Historical Discourse of Nalini Malani’, Nalini Malini, Stories Retold, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2004, unpaginated)
In The Game, painted during her residency at the Montalvo Arts Center, Malani incorporates symbols such as maps of Mumbai suspended between groups of anthropomorphic figures. The grid pattern in the background and scattered placement of the figures resembles an ongoing game of chess or checkers. One figure holding a gun appears to be stopped by another, perhaps a reference to the theme of non-violence in the history of India’s freedom struggle. Through various allegorical and historical references in this piece, the artist compels the viewer to interrogate and critique the narrations of history retold over time.

A major retrospective of Malani’s work was recently held in two parts at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2017) and Castello di Revoli, Turin (2018). Her work has been represented in numerous exhibitions worldwide including at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2017), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2016), the Asia Society Museum, New York (2014) and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (2014).

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