A childhood memory that stands out for artist Jitish Kallat is making a drawing for his sister’s biology assignment. He was five years old and fascinated by what pencil lines could create on paper. “As you add more marks, a world begins to originate on a piece of paper, and you feel incredibly empowered. I think well into my mid-teens I was persistently and obsessively drawing,” he reveals in his eponymous book that launches in the city this evening.
Held in conjunction with Chemould Prescott Road and Nature Morte, the evening will see Kallat in conversation with filmmaker Anand Gandhi and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote. The 364-page monograph (₹3,950) – edited by curator-writer Natasha Ginwala and published by Mapin Publishing in association with Prestel – chronicles over two decades of the artist’s practice. It’s a “Mobius-strip like circuit of text and image”, writes Ginwala in her introduction in the book. “The process of making this monograph was a bit like reflecting on one’s work,” says Kallat, adding, “Working on it was inspiring especially because it paralleled the making of my retrospective-like survey exhibition curated by Catherine David at the NGMA in Delhi in 2017.”
A vibrant display
The book features an extensive interview with Kallat conducted by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. It offers insights into his early interest in advertising billboards, friendship with the influential artist Bhupen Khakhar that was “rather late in the day unfortunately” and the shift from painting to 3D installations.
Essay contributions by art critic Jyoti Dhar, social theorist Dilip Gaonkar and scientist and AI expert Bernardo Kastrup among others, analyse the artist’s aesthetic language. Dhar, for instance, highlights the artistic role of time and memory in Kallat’s career through ‘Epilogue’ (2010-11), an installation where rotis morph into the lunar cycle to depict every moon that the artist’s father saw during his lifespan from 1936 to 1998.
Readers can also feast their eyes on 155 images – sketches, large-format mixed media works, paintings, elemental drawings, sculptures and lenticular photo prints. They’re inspired by his observations of commuters in Mumbai locals, the sleep cycles of animals, meditative studies of the wind and curiosity about the cosmic and ecological worlds. The installation views of his famous Public Notice series – that began as a reaction to the 2002 Gujarat riots – are also splashed across the pages.
The painter returns
Along with his monograph, Kallat has also been busy with his solo show, Phase Transition in Paris that wrapped up last month. It marks his return to painting after a five-year hiatus from the medium. The works titled ‘Palindrome/Anagram Paintings’ carry forward his enquiries on time, transience and the cosmological. “The ideas enshrined in the exhibition have been long-standing inquiries but directed through a deeply probing and speculative painterly process,” he says.
Next month, Kallat will also display his powerful work titled, ‘Covering Letter’ – featuring a letter from Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler – in a group exhibition (themed on ‘150 years of Gandhi’) at the India Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. This marks India’s return to the prestigious art event after a gap of eight years. “Since all the major and numerous smaller nations participate in the Venice Biennale, India’s absence at the event is indicative of the general neglect of art and culture by successive governments,” rues Kallat. “I hope this India Pavilion is not a one-time event but also indicative of some positive shifts in the overall art and culture policy.”
The monograph, Jitish Kallat will be launched at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Fort this evening at 6 p.m.