Jitish Kallat: All Stories we Tell About Others are Stories about Ourselves

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By Zenobia Khaleel | February 14, 2014 4:36 PM EST

Sometimes, nay mostly, it's the deceptively simple moments in life that leave the deepest impact. When contemporary Indian artist Jitish Kallat decided to create an artistic memento to revere his father, he based it around the many meals they shared together.

Global India Newswire
Jitish Kallat: All stories we tell about others are stories about ourselves

Kallat epitomizes his father's life with Epilogue - 22,000 photographs of progressively eaten roti; each roti symbolizing the phase of the moon his father might have gazed on each night of his life. Connecting the mortal with the celestial, Kallat reminds viewers of life's natural ebb and flow, of the essential things that nourish us - bread, family.

Epilogue is a prologue to the San Jose Museum of Art's (SJMA) 'Around the Table' art festival, and will be on view till Spring.

Kallat has dominated the contemporary art scene in India for more than a decade. In recent years, he has been trending around the global circuit as well. A master of mixed media, his wide ranging genre incorporates painting, large-scale sculpture installations, photography, and video art.

Kallat has conducted solo exhibitions around the world, in cities like New Delhi, New York, Berlin, London and Chicago and his work is showcased in the hallowed halls of Tate Modern, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Saatchi Gallery in London; and at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane, Australia, and the Havana Biennial, in Cuba.

Kallat unleashes his imagination with a distinct and vibrant imagery that captivates the attention and evokes thought in the viewer. His art, rich in concept and technique, constantly delves into 'the endless narratives of human struggle'- life, death, pain, hope and survival.

Kallat's works are introspective; be it reviving momentous events in history, voicing the relationship between the individual and the masses, urban consumerism, and India's socio political climate. The sprawling metropolis of Mumbai - Kallat's hometown - is regularly featured in his art, with all its chaotic energy and the multitudes of its inhabitants.

"The overcrowded and media-saturated street festooned with billboards provided me with themes, as well as my artistic language," Kallat has remarked earlier.

As part of the SJMA's art exhibition, Kallat was in California last month, speaking on his huge volume of work at the India Community Center. Some of his significant work include "Public Notice 3" an installation at the art institute of Chicago where he connects two diametrically opposite events in history that befell on the same date, 108 years apart - the First World Parliament of Religions held on September 11, 1893, and the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,  September 11, 2001.

Kallat converts Vivekananda's landmark speech, which advocated universal tolerance, to LED displays, on the Grand Staircase of the Art Institute, displayed in the colors of the Department of Homeland Security's color coded threat alert system. "Circadian Rhyme" recreates the scene at the security checkpoint; a set of miniature figures lined up in a row each being frisked by a security agent. Deftly interwoven with poetry and irony, it is another acerbic commentary of paranoia and terrorism which has become part of the everyday reality.

In an interview to Global India Newswire, Kallat describes his art, the process and the purpose of  his creations. Excerpts from the interview:

Is it right to surmise that Mumbai is your greatest muse? Is there a recurring theme in your art?

Mumbai is neither a muse nor a theme. It is my city of birth and residence. Beyond the idea of home and family it is the 'culture medium' within which one has grown and absorbed the world. The themes perhaps come from the inner-most core of one's being and are questions that might fuel the very purpose of life. Where is our planet going at 70000 miles per hour and how can we map the meaning of our existence to this larger planetary journey, can be one such question.

As an artist, are you trying to mirror the society, question it, or compel the society to act?

As an artist I may be trying to mirror myself; and the entire world anyway is within all of us. All the stories we might tell about others are stories about ourselves.

Art is a compelling space to sketch a vision of the world; I'm not so sure it can compel society to act in a way that agitprop would. In the presence of a piece of work one might be provoked, at an individual level, to re-think oneself and one's place in the world.

Is there a sense of disillusionment in your art, in India's current state of affairs?

You can tell me if you see disillusionment in the work. My imagery, my artistic language and orientation evolve in response to the world around me. Just as the beautiful mysteries of the world inform my work, the asymmetric inequities of the world that concerns me as an individual might also percolate my work as an artist.

Do you believe Indian art has come of age in the world stage?

In the last decade or so, the world has been increasingly interested in not just the art of south Asia but literature, music, films and food from the region. That may have something to do with a growing interest in the region but at a very fundamental level, the art has an internal rigor that is also drawing the world to it.

Paintings, photography, mixed media, sculptures. You work with diverse forms of artistic media. What gives you the most creative satisfaction?

I do not think in mediumistic terms. The medium is a pointer. Creative satisfaction comes when an idea finds the right medium to materialize itself, and the work feels like a germinated entity evolved out of the seed idea that appeared within oneself.

Can you explain the concept of 'Epilogue'?

In 'Epilogue' I retrace my father's life through all the moons he may have witnessed from the day he was born on April 2, 1936 to the day of his untimely death on December 2, 1998. 'Epilogue' is measurement of my father's lifespan with the approximately 22,000 moons that he saw in the 62 years of his life, each moon is represented by a progressively eaten roti (Indian bread). The last moon he saw was on the night of December 1, 1998 leaving the last frame of Epilogue dark and empty, barring that single moon which appears almost like a full stop. 'Epilogue' can perhaps be called meditations on time and sustenance, as a script inscribed in the night sky waxing and waning between abundance and dearth.

What are you forthcoming projects?                                                                                                                               

Besides the concurrent solo exhibitions at the San Jose Museum of Art and at Gallery Daniel Templon, Paris, there is a forthcoming solo exhibition with Arndt Singapore opening in the third week of October. After November I recede into the studio for a few months of silent, uninterrupted work. In the summer of 2014 a large permanent sculpture of mine will be installed in Austria.

How has your art evolved through the years?

Concentrically and eccentrically.

(Photo: Global India Newswire / )
Jitish Kallat: All stories we tell about others are stories about ourselves
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