REMYTHOLOGIZING: How shall we conduct a transaction between the victim and the witness, between these two key signs, where the one verges on mortality and the other serves for a living testimony, and both together establish a large part of the iconography of twentieth century art? The two designations have been especially important within feminist and postcolonial discourses, and in both cases, the stereotype has been activated to conduct that transaction.

In the single-channel video installation Unity In Diversity (top image), Nalini Malani animates a 19th century oil painting (Ravi Varma’s Galaxy of Musicians c.1889) in which a tiered group portrait of Indian women holding musical instruments and costumed according to ethnic type and region, serves as a tableau allegorizing the diverse and unified nation, the civilizational slogan Indian repeats in the hope of sustaining a multi-religious multi-ethnic and secular polity. Malanai’s galaxy mutates through a painterly rendering of video animation: a flesh and blood actor underwrites the images of her painted sisters, and the surface shudders with the uncanny overlapping of dead and alive women. The screen replicates an “Old Master” painting encased in a frame, and the pleasure of its pictorial imagery—blooming, twitching, dissolving—is shot through with omens. A gunshot causes us to regain conscious in an India rent by religious violence. The screen breaks into palpitating viscera—an intrusion, a probing that might in a Surrealist take on body metaphors, stand for rape. The narrative closes with insurgent women wearing head scarves and carrying guns; a voiceover sees the transfiguration support the right of representation—urging us to name by whom, and how, this right may be elaborated.

Geeta Kapur, “Play of Self and Gender: Through the Lens of Women Artists in India” (2007).

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