Reena Kallat (b. 1973, New Delhi) is an artist whose practice in drawing, photography, sculpture and video is deeply conceptual. Kallat's interest in political and social borders — and their violent cleaving through the land, people and nature — resonates with the continuing aftershocks of the Partition in India, which her family experienced. Kallat has researched various histories of migration, the plunder of shared natural resources for national gain, and archives of disappeared people. The figure of a hybrid is a strong motif in her works, as well as that of barbed wire which she crafts from various materials and with different techniques.
For the project, Kallat sends a message from Mumbai, during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic: "Here in Mumbai we've been in complete lockdown for over three months and only in the last few days are attempting to partially open up. Given the sheer density of people, curtailing numbers of those infected are proving to be extremely challenging while finding ways of operating in the new normal. It's said that the virus affects us all in the same measure regardless of nationality, not discriminating between the privileged and less privileged. Still, in India, the past months have only further revealed underlying inequalities. We have faced a huge humanitarian crisis, with the daily wage worker and migrant population being the worst hit. Not since the partition of India in 1947 have we seen such mass migrations, with people embarking on arduous journeys on foot with no access to food or shelter.
Personally speaking, I find going into isolation time for reflection, which I periodically enjoy. Normally it's a self-imposed choice to insulate oneself from the external noise and bring focus while redirecting energies towards a new project. For those of us who have the security of staying in the comfort of our homes, this phase has allowed us the time to pause, to pare down and think of what's important not just to art but our lives in general. At a time when critical resources are stretched, and freedoms shrink our values, our beliefs are tested. Continuing to stay absorbed in my work through this period, and keeping in touch with people closest to me, has helped me remain in a positive and productive state of mind.
While the virus has totally recalibrated our relationship with one another, the human need for connection remains. We may be physically distant, but because of technology, we have the opportunity to stay connected through various digital platforms. As distances collapse in virtual space, it has perhaps encouraged long-distance conversations, dialogues forging new networks. Today, even as we tighten our national borders amidst fears of the virus travelling through our bodies, we increasingly recognise our interdependence on each other. Everything which affects some of us almost immediately affects all of us.
Art has always been a chronicle of the times, and it can't be any different today. Looking ahead, I feel like the situation in India is different from some other countries, since historically we haven't had much of public infrastructure for the arts. In trying to fill the gap, artists themselves have set up peer-support movements helping other artists get through the crisis. In contrast, galleries have created shared platforms to work more collaboratively. This is a time for thinking innovatively and creating a pool of resources which can support various forms of cultural practice whether literature, music, theatre or art writing because the space for these might shrink. Those of us who've worked for nearly 25 years in the field realise that there were moments when opportunities had to be created. You couldn't wait for something to happen. New paths had to be built. Having said that, it's imperative to create a safety net, especially for young and very nascent practices that tend to be most affected and most vulnerable. This period will leave an indelible mark. In the near term, as the pandemic compels us towards physical distancing, it perhaps will make it more urgent for us to device new virtual experiences that can replicate reality. I think we may see a transformation in the subject matter artists engage in but more importantly, in the structure and possibilities of art. It's a time for a re-examination of our ways of living and working which can lead to fundamental shifts in our imagination."
Artists Respond project was started by the Institute for the Research of the Avant-Garde and the Marinko Sudac Collection. Addressing the current global pandemic, the project aims to virtually present the thoughts and attitudes of neo-avant-garde artists, their energy and the message they have for the present moment. This is the moment in which the world as we know it is on hold and the moment in which we need optimism and solidarity more than ever. We wish for the public to welcome the creative energy of these artists - artists who are ready to point out the state of things, to respond with art and creativity, as they have done in all difficult times in the past.