Reena Kallat’s solo exhibition at the Manchester Museum, forms a conceptual bridge between the human and natural worlds represented by the museum’s rich and varied collections of natural sciences and human cultures. In her works, Kallat seeks answers to perennial human conflicts in the natural world; animating the museum space with new meanings and drawing together multiple strands in the institution’s narrative—of botany, zoology, palaeontology, ethnography, archery and archaeology—to invoke complex histories of conflict and co-existence.
In the suite of works titled Hyphenated Lives that resemble zoological and botanical drawings, hybrid specimens of birds, animals, plants and trees formed by the merger of species appropriated as national emblems by various states symbolically unify the divided regions that form their habitat. These fantastical species come together in monumental drawings titled Cleft where they interrupt human geographies of conflict, replacing them with a mythic narrative of convergence. “I felt the need to turn to species other than the human race to tell us how to cohabit the planet, where the existence of one depends on the other or the disappearance of one species affects the other adversely. I often think of these conjoined forms as an allusion to nature’s defiance of artificially imposed, man-made divisions on the ground; a poetic provocation from the past or a proposition for an imagined future where indeed they may reunite”, the artist says.
A recurring motif in Kallat’s works is the electrical cable, a symbol for the communication revolution and a conduit for energy and ideas that the artist has painstakingly woven into the shape of barbed wires. In Anatomy of a Distance, woven wires fitted with motion sensors take the shape of a disputed border. In Half Oxygen, wires have been woven into a frame like a large embroidery ring to create a pair of lungs, one half of which forms a banyan, India’s national tree and the other, the deodar, its Pakistani counterpart; creating a composite representing the shared soul of two warring nations. In these and other works that form this landmark mid-career survey, Reena Kallat urges us to reflect on borders, barriers, and the bonds that transcend them, on this planet that we all call home.
Reena Saini Kallat’s (b. 1973, Delhi, India) practice spanning drawing, photography, sculpture, and video, engages with diverse materials imbued with conceptual underpinnings. She has widely exhibited at institutions across the world such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Kennedy Centre, Washington; Vancouver Art Gallery; Saatchi Gallery, London; SESC Pompeia and SESC Belenzino, Sao Paulo; Helsinki City Art Museum, Finland; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; Casa Asia, Madrid and Barcelona; ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany; Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney; Hangar Bicocca, Milan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai; Chicago Cultural Centre amongst many others.
Her works are part of several public and private collections including the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan; Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada; Initial Access (Frank Cohen Collection), UK; Fondazione Golinelli, Italy; Bhaudaji Lad Museum, Mumbai; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Ermenegildo Zegna Group, Italy, and Burger Collection, Hong Kong, amongst others.