b. 1974, in Mumbai, India
Jitish Kallat is among the most globally recognized and celebrated Indian contemporary artists, working across painting, sculpture, video, and photography, and he has been exhibiting with Chemould Prescott Road since 1997, less than a year after graduating from the Sir JJ School of Art in Bombay.
Kallat earned early acclaim as a painter, representing facets of daily life and
visual culture in the bustling city of Bombay (with 20 million + inhabitants) down to the most minute detail, and conveying the weight of history as well as the energy and ambition that drives this city that inspires his work. “The highly populated city of Bombay, where I live, is almost a theatre where the codes of daily existence are pushed to the extreme and this continually percolates my practice,” elaborates Kallat.
The timeless dilemma of the collective versus the individual manifests in Kallat’s work, and leaves viewers with a sense of responsibility to instigate positive change before history repeats itself. The natural elements in these urban works are distorted and disturbing, often evoking a sense of apocalyptic doom such as in the 2012 painting Allegory of the Endless Morning, where trees sprout from buildings and carnivorous birds attack each other.
As his painting career developed, Kallat began to add sculptural elements to the works such as bronze mounts that depict colonial era details from the 120-year-old Victoria Terminus station in the heart of the commercial district of Bombay. At times, these beautifully detailed brackets seem to vomit onto the canvases, bearing silent but attuned witness to the atrocities that urban life imposes upon migrant laborers traveling through the station’s doors.
Kallat’s work extends far beyond painting, and in recent years, he has been
celebrated for the scale of his sculpture, installation, and new media projects both in terms of their size, but also in terms of their research. The Lie of the Land and Humiliation Tax exhibited in Chicago in 2004 and at Gallery Chemould in 2005 explored a speech given by Swami Vivekanada given on September 11, 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago, stressing the importance of religious tolerance, freedom, and universalism. Nearly seven years later in 2011, Kallat hit a seminal point in his career with a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was here that he created the monumental installation Public Notice 3, a textbased work that recontextualized the idea of September 11th in America by recalling Vivekanada’s words and illuminating them on the grand steps of the museum using the bright colors of US Homeland Security threat level coding. Text has a long history in Kallat’s works, from the painted titles on his early paintings to his more recent installations that often use text as form. Public Notice 3 built upon Public Notice 2 from 2007, which created a sculpturalalphabet made of 4,500 cast fiberglass bones (an often-used motif in Kallat’s sculptures that remind viewers of humanity’s shared mortality) that spell out Gandhi’s famed March 11th, 1930 speech. At the first Kiev Biennale in 2012, Kallat created another critically acclaimed work entitled Covering Letter, a freestanding fog screen projection that revisits a 1939 letter from Gandhi to Hitler, allowing viewers to stand close to words from one of the world’s greatest advocates of peace who addresses Hitler as a “friend” under the ideology of universal friendship.
In addition to universal ideals and shedding light upon the plight of the ‘other,’ several of Kallat’s recent works are more personal, and call upon the viewer to find themselves in the work. In a haunting untitled work at Sculpture at Pilane, Sweden from 2010, Kallat created a 100 foot long sculpture of cast resin and steel bones which spell the phrase “When Will You Be Happy” in a historical burial ground in Sweden, putting desires that are often driven by consumerism into the important context of our human mortality. Kallat’s 2011 work Epilogue explores the 753 moon cycles that his father experienced in his lifetime by creating photographs of each moon cycle with the moons made of roti (the most basic form of bread in India) in various stages being eaten. Viewers can find themselves in the work through the moons they experienced in their lifetimes, depicted through 22,500 rotis labeled by month and year. While the work is incredibly personal to Kallat and distinct from his earlier bodies of work, it contextualizes viewers within the universe and compels them think about time, life, death, and the relationships forged during one’s lifespan, themes that Kallat poignantly explores throughout his diverse practice.