Nalini Malani is a Pakistani-born artist, specialising in both paintings and video artwork. Her work is inspired by her own experience as a refugee of Partition, also exploring the female identity through her artwork.
The life and work of Nalini Malani:
When we think of a refugee, we might start by thinking of someone who has moved from their country to another - often to a country in the west. Nalani Malani and her family, as well as other families who were facing Partition in India and Pakistan during 1947, were in the unique position of becoming refugees in a state that used to be part of the same country.
Malani is a contemporary artist, the first to receive the National Gallery Contemporary Fellowship with Art Fund, specialising in a multitude of mediums from theatre and video to painting and drawing. Her experience as a refugee largely influences her work. She became a refugee as a result of the Partition of India and Pakistan which took place in 1947 and declared India and Pakistan as separate states. As a Sindhi Sikh in Pakistan, Malani and her family were a few of the over 7 million (as counted by the 1951 Census in India) who were displaced from Pakistan to India during Partition. She grew up in a colony in Mumbai that was built for displaced Sindhis.
In 1964, Malani became a student at Sir Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay and during this time, she had a studio at the Bhulabhai Memorial Institute in Bombay. After receiving her Diploma in Fine Arts, she moved to Paris where she received a French Government Scholarship for Fine Arts. Malani also started experimenting with film, with her first Dream Houses, published in 1969.
As a refugee of religious conflict, a lot of her work has been informed by these experiences, especially in her experience as “the other”, in a space that is constantly keeping you on the outside. This is seen through her paintings which are mostly abstract and also use the “reverse painting” technique. After the 1990s demolition of the Babri Masjid, her work shifted as this event of religious conflicted was reminiscient of Partition. She is also concerned with the female experience and recalls classical imagery from both the east and the west, including images of Cassandra and Medea in her paintings and also Sita in her video artworks such as her 2005 work, Mother India.
Not only serving as a voice for the millions that were displaced during Partition, Malani is a pioneer in her field. She is being featured in the National Gallery with the exhibition “My reality is Different” which is a curation of her animations, drawn using an iPad. She is also the first Asian Woman to receive the Arts and Culture Fukuoka Prize for her “consistent focus on such darling contemporary and universal themes as religious conflict, war and oppression of women and environmental destruction.”(Mallonee, 2013) She has used her experience as a refugee, a person constantly between spaces and has used that to fuel her career as an artist working through multiple spaces and mediums to call us to understand this as a vital way of understanding the refugee experience.
Sahar is a second year English Language and Literature student at Oxford University. She researched and wrote this article as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.