- Nalini Malani born 1946
- Video, 6 projections, colour and sound, acrylic paint and ink on polyester film, motors and painted metal
- Overall display dimensions variable
- Purchased with Art Fund support and with funds provided by the South Asia Acquisitions Committee and Tate International Council 2021
In Search of Vanished Blood 2012 is a room-sized installation consisting of six synchronised projected films, a soundscape and five rotating transparent cylinders made of a type of polycarbonate plastic known as Mylar; these have paintings of animals and mythological figures on their inside surface. As the films are projected through the cylinders, which rotate at four revolutions per minute, shadows form across the animations and are cast around the gallery walls. Produced for documenta 13 in 2012, this is one of a number of works involving film projections and rotating reverse-painted transparent cylinders which the artist calls ‘video/shadow plays’, referring to the narratives and layers that are unveiled through the duration of the films and soundscape. It gives voice to women in Greek and Hindu mythologies, lamenting histories of gendered violence – particularly in times of modern conflict – and clashing ideals of dominating nationalisms.
The title and main text of the soundscape for this work are taken from the poem Lahu ka Surag by the Pakistani leftist poet and revolutionary Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911–1984), translated into English from Urdu by the poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949–2001). Taking inspiration from the writings of Christa Wolf in Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays (1983) and Rainer Maria Rilke in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), In Search of Vanished Blood ruminates on the declining state of the world and the failure of communication through the voices of women disregarded in mythology and history. The soundscape has its origins in texts from Heiner Müller’s play Hamletmachine (1977), Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) and Mahasweta Devi’s short story Draupadi (1978), translated from Bengali into English by Gayatri Spivak.
The sequence begins with the voice of Cassandra, the prophesising figure from Greek mythology, who narrates a story on the state of the world, foretelling moments of violence particularly against women in periods of political turmoil, to which a chorus reacts. Her accounts are relayed through stop-motion animations that depict scenes from the Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s (1746–1828) sequence of prints The Disasters of War 1810–20, as well as of fighters in contemporary conflicts from the Taliban in Afghanistan to Maoist rebels in north India. Later, the words of Faiz’s poem scroll down over the covered face of Cassandra and, as the last words dissolve into television static, a frantic hand appears attempting to communicate a final message about democracy in American Sign Language.
This is one of Malani’s last shadow-play installations. An iteration of the work using the film elements of the piece was projected onto the facades of the Scottish National Gallery during the Edinburgh Arts Festival in 2014. Malani first came to use reverse-painted Mylar cylinders in a performance for theatre, The Job 1996 at the National Center for Performing Arts, Mumbai, in which she devised the structures as short ‘film loops’. The artist was taken by the shadows that emanated from the painted figures onto the walls and it has since become a frequent trope in her work, first used to full effect within her installation The Sacred & the Profane in 1998. The painted cylinders draw connections to different vernacular forms of art and storytelling from various cultures, combining the popular performances of shadow puppetry that exist within differing communities across the world with the narrative traditions of Kalighat paintings from Calcutta.
The shadows of the figures painted on the cylinders in In Search of Vanished Blood alternately interrupt and integrate with the images of the projection as they rotate to create layers of film, animation and drawing. For Malani, the formation of shadows of these various figures, depicting both the perpetrators and victims of violence, is an exercise in democratisation. As a shadow, the identities and details of each portrait are lost, and the forms thus achieve equal status. Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has further described the use of the ephemeral physicality of shadows in the installation as visual metaphors for the invisible narratives of Cassandra and other women whose voices have been suppressed in history, stating that ‘the relationship between an object and its shadow is that the shadow is not the object. It is a visible incarnation of the absent in the object. So the invisible is on the one hand the abject, but also on the other hand the rejected of society, the women in certain conditions, or the foreigner.’ (In documenta 13 exhibition catalogue 2012, p.20.)
In Search of Vanished Blood collectively represents multiple strands in Malani’s lifelong practice. An exploration of the formal qualities of film in relation to figurative painting, the work also relays her commitment to feminist activism and addresses the violence of modern conflicts in the rise of nationalist agendas. Malani centres on the local violence that occurred during and after Partition in South Asia, which uprooted her own family from her birth city of Karachi now in post-Partition Pakistan, but also draws parallels to resonate with conflicts across the world. Thus the installation acts as both a cautionary tale and, as the title suggests, an elegy to lives lost and forgotten internationally.
The work exists in an edition of three, of which Tate’s copy is the third. The other two are in the collections of the Burger Collection, Hong Kong and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Arjun Appadurai, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Andreas Huyssen, Nalini Malani and Johan Pijnappel, Nalini Malani: In Search of Vanished Blood, exhibition catalogue for documenta 13, Kassel 2012.
Mieke Bal, Marcella Beccaria and Johan Pijnappel (eds.), Nalini Malani: The Rebellion of the Dead, Retrospective 1969–2018, Part II, Ostfildern 2018, pp.192–3.
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