I feel art has a function more than ever before to return us to that part of the human that we deny, the part that thwarts our capacity to make sense of what we see and hear.
‘Unity in diversity’ is a general slogan for social harmony, which can be traced back to twelfth-century Sufi philosophy. It specifically became emblematic of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his secular and democratic vision for an egalitarian and pluralistic society.
In 2002, riots in the Indian province of Gujarat erupted between Hindus and Muslims, resulting in the violent deaths of 2000 people. In response, Malani created the video play Unity in Diversity, 2003. The central video is based on the painting Galaxy of Musicians, 1889, by Raja Ravi Varma, depicting eleven female musicians from diverse backgrounds, signifying harmony in diversity.
The video is staged in an ornate frame and is the centrepiece in a living room that includes photographs from the life of Mahatma Gandhi. In the video, the unity depicted in the Galaxy of Musicians deteriorates as gunshots are heard, along with spoken text from German dramatist Heiner Müller’s The Task and a speech about the hopes of nationalism from a voice that sounds like Nehru’s. This twilight of fragmented memories ends in footage and eye-witness accounts from the 2002 riots.
Nalini Malani often references historical genres of Indian art in her moving image works. This video Unity in Diversity, 2003, presents musicians of different backgrounds and echoes Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, music, art, speech, wisdom and learning.
The distinctive Kalighat painting style emerged in the nineteenth century in Calcutta (now Kolkatta), West Bengal. Characterized by bright colours and bold outlines this unique genre of painting was created by painters in small stalls surrounding the Kali Temple and was popular among pilgrims attending the annual Kali Puja as well as foreigners.
This selection of Kalighat from the Gallery’s collection includes paintings depicting the avatars Vishnu, including Rama and Narayan, as well as characters from the revered Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
At the centre of this painting is Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, the benevolent sustainer of the universal order in Hindu belief. Rama was a central character in the two thousand year old and still influential Indian epic the Ramayana.Standing next to Lord Rama is his brother, Lakshmana, and below is his divine companion Hanuman, both of whom assisted in the safe return of his beloved Sita after she was abducted by the ogre king Ravana.
The painting depicts Rama, Lakshmana and Sita receiving homage from the faithful attendant, Hanuman.
This painting depicts an iconic scene from the Indian epic the Ramayana. On the left is the wrathful ogre king Ravana, depicted with multiple heads and arms, who abducted Rama’s wife Sita and held her captive in his kingdom of Lanka. On the right is Rama, who launched an invasion against Ravana and rescued Sita.
The beloved Hindu deity Sarasvati is often venerated as the goddess of knowledge, music, art, speech, wisdom and learning. It is believed she is the active energy and power of Brahma as the embodiment of creation itself. Here she is depicted amidst a profusion of flowers and standing on a lotus.
This painting depicts an iconic scene from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. On the right is Droupady, the main female character who is known for her beauty and courage. The painting presents the scene when Droupady’s father held a contest to choose a husband for her. It required the participants to lift and string a bow and fire arrows to pierce the eye of a golden fish only by looking at its reflection in the water. On the left is Arjoon who won the contest, but due to a misunderstanding, Droupady had to marry Arjoon along with his four brothers, collectively known as the Pandavas.
In the Hindu pantheon, Brahma is often described as representing the creative principle or aspect of the Absolute. His consort is the goddess Sarasvati. He is often depicted as having a red complexion, wearing red or yellow garments, and with four heads facing the four cardinal directions. In this painting, he is seated on a royal dais and his mount (vahana) is located below.
This painting depicts Sarasvati sitting on a large lotus, playing a stringed musical instrument known as a tanpura, befitting her role as a deity of music. Sarasvati embodies knowledge as well as the experience of the highest reality.
The handwritten text on this painting identifies this as a depiction of Matsya, the first avatar of Vishnu, who is also known as Narayan. In Sanskrit, Matsya means ‘fish’ and refers to the earliest accounts in Hindu literature. The tale of Matsya appears in the Mahabharata and recounts the encounter of a man with a small fish who, after a disastrous flood, is revealed to be Brahma. This image shows Matsya or Narayan in his most well-known form, with four arms and a blue complexion, holding a lotus (padma), a mace (kaumodaki), a conch (panchajanya shankha) and a discus (sudarshana chakra). The Varaha Purana, a Sanskrit text, equates Narayan to the deity of creation, who woke from slumber in the cosmic waters, took the form of a gigantic fish, and rescued the Vedas and other scriptures.