Untitled (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) | New York, Rockefeller Plaza | acrylic on canvas; bronze | 203.2 x 172.7 cm.; 29.2 x 30.5 x 40.6 cm.
“The overcrowded and media-saturated street festooned with billboards provided me with my themes, as well as my artistic language.”
Jitish Kallat derives his distinct visual language from the colorful, ramshackle streets of Mumbai where he was born, exploring India's complex and shifting identity through his multimedia works in painting, sculpture, video and photography. His is the idiom of billboards and graffiti artists, political posters and traffic jams. “My art is more like a researcher's project who uses quotes rather than an essay,” he has said, “with each painting necessitating a bibliography."
His work is as varied as the streets and media from which he draws his inspiration. Traumanama (The Cry of the Gland), as he describes it, “is a portfolio of works on paper that opens up the body almost like Rorschach inkblots, the stretched muscles and dripping fluids metaphorically become receptacles of urban trauma.” His Analgesic Studies (2005-2007) are pop art abraded and updated, a Rauchenbergian pastiche for a globalizing India, in turns political, historical, cartoonish, lewd, grotesque, and darkly mischievous. In Conditions Apply (2007), seven back-lit photographs depict a sequentially waning moon, as approximated by progressively nibbled (and slightly burned) pieces of traditional Indian roti bread, in progressive stages of having been nibbled. It’s as though, he has stated, “the twin metaphors of deprivation and hope are morphed into one composite image.”
Kallat studied painting at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, graduating with a BFA in 1996; in 2001 he received the Indo-American Society’s “Young Achiever Award.” Today, he is one of India’s leading contemporary artists, the subject of multiple catalogs and solo exhibitions around the world, in cities like New Delhi, New York, Berlin, London and Chicago. His work has been included in major group exhibitions at Tate Modern, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Saatchi Gallery in London; and at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane, Australia, the Gwangju Biennale in Korea and the Havana Biennial, in Cuba. He lives and works in Mumbai.