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Nalini Malani

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1946, Karachi, Pakistan
Lives and works in Mumbai

Nalini Malani began experimenting with video art at a point when it was an obscure art form in India. Her inspirations are personal, as well as historical and cultural. She incorporates paintings, videos, installation, and wall art to provide various layers to cultural conflicts and resistance through her art works.



Diploma in Fine Arts, Jamshedjee Jeejeeboy School of Art, Bombay


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Experience of partition and displacement has hugely influenced her practice

Sadat Hasan Manto is a vital part of her art as most of his works are about uprootedness which for her is a vital aspect of our global society. She argues "I can do without a limb but can’t cut off my history without destroying my life. My history is my identity and as such the themes as you mentioned will always be there in the larger context of my works." She uses personal narratives and history to investigate the collective and the global. Virtual technology has given impetus to her projects as she explores,re-contextualises and re-orients multiplicities and histories. Her probing and representations of history are most interesting in her installations and video works that intertwine interconnections between cultures, religious iconography and the media which provide a space for these collective memories which have been silenced and marginalised. Her Remembering Toba Tek Singh, 1998-99, is a video installation which traces the painful, horrific and absurd journey of violence beginning with the partition. The work was made in response to the underground nuclear tests in India in 1998.

Nalini Malani, Remembering Toba Tek Singh, 1998-99, video installation, 20 minutes looped, sound.

She sees the role of an artist as a social activist.

She does not adhere to one particular political ideology. For her humanity and equalityare the bases of political ideology. Her practice of art extends beyond the representation of contemporary India to locating it within a global and historical context. This for her becomes possible in this hyper-digital age where it has become easier to counteract crimes against humanity as a collective as more and more artists use these media to reach out. She is reacts against consumerism, development myths, nuclear trials, and the dehumanising of her city Mumbai as it loses its natural spaces. The function of art then for her is to provoke people into thinking, to protect the rights of the disenfranchised. Her City of Desires, 1992, is done as a continuous drawing as people came and viewed. The fresco is destroyed at the end of the performance to protest against the vandalism and destruction of 19th century fresco painting in Nathdwara. The video remains the only surviving record of that work.

Nalini Malani, City of Desires, 1992, installation, ephemeral wall drawings and paintings, 427 x 1830 cm.

Much of her work is inspired by stories and myths, both Western and Indian.

Malani argues that myths are universal having a universal language and a collective consciousness. As they are widely known they create a link with the viewer. She attempts to challenge not tradition but convention as she foregrounds those stories which have been marginalised in popular imagination; there is a universality and identification in these myths of yore to indicate modern dilemmas. She says,"They’ve come down through generations, and there’s no one author. They’re like seeds – you plant one and so much comes out. I’m fascinated by the melding of cultures, and subsequently myths." The repetitive and cyclical nature of myth is interests her as each time they’re narrated it is reconfigured with nuances and newer emotions "Listening to the Shades" on the Greek myth of Cassandra addresses the incompleteness of the women's revolution and raises questions to that end as well.

Nalini Malani, Listening to the Shades, (panel 42 of 57), 2008, acrylic, ink and enamel on acrylic sheet.

She explored varied media to reach out to a larger audience.

She was among the first Indian artists in Bombay to engage with installation and video art in an attempt to bring the audience into contact with the materiality of the issues that were being addressed. She believes, "The exigencies of certain societal conditions make you search for alternatives." She consciously took to video art after the Babri Masjid demolition. She uses beauty in her art to seduce the viewer and not alienate him/her. It comes from her attempt to develop a visual culture in India she targets those masses that do not go to art galleries.Various artistic forms have influenced her including writing and theatre. She creates multi-layered narratives as her works includes elements of traditional folk arts, shadow play, kaleidoscope lantern and Kalighat paintings with divine images.

Nalini Malani, In Search of Vanished Blood, 2012, video play.

She emerged at a time when the Indian art scene was male dominated

Malani uses personal narratives and history in her art practice and her works can be seen as a cathartic autobiography. Her attention has been on unconventional women – Mad Meg from Breughel’s painting, Medea, Sita, Radha, Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. These women real or legendary have subverted male dominated social customs to define new roles. She re-appropriates conventional patriarchal imagery of women by reconfiguring female identity and inquiring human emotions and cultural signification of body in terms of choice. She argues "there are male artists who are feminist. The male principle and the female principle operate in each one of us, regardless of one’s gender. The thing is to allow the female part to have a life and not denigrate it. Negating or suppressing the female part has led to tragic situations." In her work titled Mother India, 2005, Malani creates a space, a witness for a collective of disenfranchised voices of women who have experienced violence in India and in the world, giving meaning to marginalised voices as well as silence.

Nalini Malani, Mother India: Transactions in the Construction of Pain, 2005, video installation, 5 projections, duration 5 1/2 minutes.