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Ranbir Kaleka

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1953, Patiala, Punjab, India
Lives and works in New Delhi

Ranbir Kaleka works in various media like oil on canvas, watercolors, painting and mixed media on shaped wood and board, digital photographs and complex video installations. His new media works, particularly his painting installations have developed in the latter period of his career.



Master of Arts (Painting), Royal College of Art, London on Charles Wallace Scholarship


Five Year Diploma in Painting, College of Art, Punjab University, Chandigarh, India 


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Ranbir Kaleka's use of superimposition techniques reveals the phenomenal extent of his grasp on multiple mediums

Initially trained as a painter, and then during mid-career making a move towards multi-media and video installations, Ranbir Kaleka’s adept manoeuvrings through multiple practices shows his ability and penchant for an artistic totality. This assumes greater impetus when he starts fusing practices, not settling for one but embracing all. Superimposition becomes the key then. He starts working with video projections on painted images, calibrated carefully to initiate coherent dialogue across mediums and narrate stories that become multi-layered, quite literally.

Kettle, 2010, a single channel video projected on a painted canvas marks the journey of the simple utensil from a store to multiple locations. This journey is documented through the remarkable calibration and overlapping of movement between the painting of the kettle and the projection of different locations. Throughout there is a constant interaction of the two mediums, between the static images of the canvas and the moving images of the projections, weaving the story of this simple tea-making utensil.

Ranbir Kaleka, Kettle, 2008, still from a single channel HD video projection on painted canvas, 3 minutes 33 seconds loop.

Another crucial dimension in understanding Kaleka's 'video-paintings' is the parallel running audio

Kaleka’s deft handling of the mediums of painting and video to narrate stories are accompanied by sound to add another strategy of narration. Sound then plays a crucial role in lending a legible device in understanding the works.

The range of sounds accompanying his works can be very basic ones to complex oral narratives. In Cul-De-Sac in Taxila, 2010, he employs sharp, precise sounds of dropping water to punctuate the video to mark the passing of time and while in Consider, 2010, voices narrate how human hair was used as an industrial product during the war, amidst Chinese and Aegean music and other noises. Academy Award winning composer Elliot Goldenthal wrote the music for Forest, 2009-2012.

Ranbir Kaleka, Consider, 2007, two channel video projected on two canvases, 11’ x 7’ 6” (each canvas). Installation view, Spertus Museum, Chicago.

Ranbir Kaleka's works present fractures and dystopia, both in space and in time

Ranbir Kaleka’s works hinder a sensible and coherent imagining of a whole. His paintings or multi-media works or sculptures have a running visuality of being displaced and re-placed out of contexts. This placement of multiple fragments of a singular reality present a dystopian and funereal experience to those looking for a concrete, cohesive whole.  

His sculpture Auroboros, 2009, depicts the severed pieces of a horse, with the middle portion placed away from the head and the rear end. The middle portion has the figure of a heavy-set man seated on the saddle-less middle, poised in a gesture of commanding the horse to move forward. This scenario works within black humour and irony with the horse clearly struggling to move forward with the motion sculpted in an elongated stretched neck, with the rider placed beyond the ends of the horse to mimic a non-movement. An added sculpture of a little face facing backwards in a bridal flower-girl costume next to the man, throws up jarring questions of a conclusive meaning.

Ranbir Kaleka, Auroboros, 2009, sculpture, fibreglass, 2.5 m.

Kaleka's works draws from the daily issues that haunt and mesmerise India

His works are inspired by the daily conundrums that make up the country. Issues of poverty, migration, labour, politics, bureaucracy and development that perpetually confront the country make up the issues that his works attempt to deal with. He galvanises these into larger questions of philosophical intent and talk about birth, identity, mortality and regeneration.

His installation Not From Here, 2010, focuses on the issue of small town migrations to big cities with the iconic railway as the transport forming the background. The images of migrant labourers with their belongings of the canvases then interact fluidly with the video of the running train and the landscape projected on it. The silhouettes of the workers come in and out of focus marking their unstable identity and territory, and their easy replaceable nature.

Ranbir Kaleka, Not From Here, 2010, four channel HD video projection on painted canvases, 6 minutes loop with sound, dimensions variable. Installation view, “Astonishment of Being”, Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Kolkata.

Kaleka's works often show the progress and process of interactions rather than the finality of an artistic production

Even though the video installations are carefully calibrated to narrate readable stories, they often underline the processes involved in its creation. The interactions are never hidden but ‘exposed’ to show the artistic processes and techniques at work.

His installation Sweet Unease, 2011, is a multi-media triptych, with two projections on two painted canvases on either side of another video projection placed in the middle. Throughout the course of the video, there is sometimes a merging of images of the canvases with the images of the projection, and then diverging. There is no attempt on the part of the artist to create an illusionary trick to make a seamless narrative of the images of the canvas and the images of the projections as one.

Ranbir Kaleka, Sweet Unease, 2011, single channel HD video projection on painted canvas mounted on fractured wall, 11 minutes 11 seconds loop, 115.7 x 21.1”. Installation view, Volte Gallery, Mumbai.