Jitish Kallat: Investigating the city

Jitish Kallat is an Indian born and based artist of international repute who contributes to the ‘India: Art Now’ exhibition at Arken Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 18 August 2012 to 13 January 2013.

In this interview, Jitish Kallat presents his artwork, bringing into focus the relationship between the individual and the masses.


By Camma Juel Jepsen


“At the deepest level, art aspires to open you to things you perhaps knew when you were born. To get there one has to disentangle tightly held certitudes and see the symptoms that tell us more about the misaligned worlds we inhabit; in doing so one might draw up associations, summon anecdotes, play with formal devices, metaphors, and evoke familiar daily experiences.

Can these be devoid of the political? Clearly not. But the allusions and references one makes are simply the means and not the ends.”


You have been very fascinated by the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building in Mumbai and the lives that are lived there. Is there a link between the specific site of the station and your own art? How do you use it as a source of inspiration in your own practice?


I am often drawn to the small details in my environment whose sudden appearance represents evidence of some internal process and equally, this image could then become an apparatus to manifest certain ideas within a work. A bulging shirt pocket laden with daily necessities or the dent on the surface of an automobile, or the tiny resilient plantlet that survives on a dry concrete wall carry emergent meaning and potential.

Similarly, I have been drawn to the sculptural frieze within the porch of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building in the center of Mumbai, lined with reliefs of animals eating something or occasionally consuming each other. This space sees a daily traffic of a few million people whose presence animates the imagery and imbues it with potency and meaning. This appropriated imagery has become graphemes or alphabets that allow me to articulate an ambivalent script of sustenance, survival, co-existence, and emancipation without essentially referring back to the source so that they then re-appear within my work in varied ways. Recreations of gargoyles that line the façade of this building have become supports that hold up the painted image; and my paintings are often clutched within the mouths of these gargoyles as if the painting were an utterance emerging from the sculpture.

I like to leave my processes wide open to allow an array of references and unannotated citations to shape a piece. I think finally it has to do with looking; to prolong the gaze and capture an emergent tale on the surface of something.



What inspired you to make the painting Allegory of the Endless Morning (2011–12)?


Painting Allegory of the Endless Morning in this elongated scale became somewhat similar to the idea of writing a long, endless sentence allowing inconsistent nouns, verbs, and adjectives to interlace, free of syntax, logic, and the anxiety of the imminent full stop. I began with a panoramic photo I took one morning in front of a railway station in my neighborhood. However, once I entered the process of painting, this image took several unexpected turns. The picture became a site for the uncanny to infiltrate the mundane and free associations through imagery overruled the rationality within my reference photograph. The sun could rise or set in between peoples’ shoulders while their heads, already bearing the image of a brimming urbanscape, could sprout trees and foliage as if they were speech bubbles or portable canopies. Elsewhere creeper-plants could morph with subway lines while three birds settle an outstanding disagreement, or the shadow of a township could melt and drip onto wheat grains . . .


Annexation (2009), The Cry of the Gland (2009), and Allegory of the Endless Morning raise questions, among others, about a particular urban experience and the constructions of identity. Using the city as a kind of prism or local experience, as you described before, what are you seeking to give voice to?


I am not sure if it is about giving voice to something … it is more about finding the voice within an image, locating the means to foreground uncertainties and questions … to let ambiguities find modes of utterance.


Jitish Kallet was born and grew up in the city of Mumbai which remains his pivotal point of his art. Employing a variety of media, he depicts the urban life of this hectic metropolis.  


Portrait of Jitish Kallat: Courtesy of the artist
Art piece: Jitish Kallat, Annexation, 2009. Courtesy of the artist and Haunch of Venison, London


18 AUGUST 2012 – 13 JANUARY 2013

In the autumn of 2012 ARKEN is devoting its whole special exhibition area to a comprehensive presentation of Indian contemporary art. Over the past decade India has made its mark as one of the most vital and innovative centres of contemporary art. With great creativity and intellectual depth a new generation of artists is reacting to the rapid changes typifying the globalized cities of the world’s largest democracy.

is a wide-ranging presentation of the new art of India with a whole array of related activities such as lecture evenings, educational processes for children and the young, and a festival programme of Indian films at the Copenhagen Film Festival.

The project is associated with a research programme at ARKEN on contemporary art and migration, which will result in a conference and a book.

The artists in the exhibition lose themselves in the chaos of urban life or seek out a quieter, inner life. They describe the dreams of a new generation and expose social conflicts. With paintings, sculptures, photography, installations and interactive art the exhibition offers unique insight into the aesthetic spectrum within which artists today are interpreting our existence on the borderline between the local and the global.

The prominent artists and artist groups of the exhibition at ARKEN are Rina Banerjee, Hemali Bhuta, Atul Dodiya, Sheela Gowda, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Reena Kallat, Rashmi Kaleka, Bharti Kher, Ravinder Reddy, Vivan Sundaram and Thukral & Tagra.

Read more: arken.dk/../udstillinger/india_art_now

The exhibition is supported by Holck-Larsen Fonden and part of the huge project and festival India Today Copenhagen Tomorrow.



18 AUGUST 2012 – 13 JANUARY 2013

The Indian fashion scene has experienced a global breakthrough in recent years. 

Over the past ten years a brand new fashion scene has grown up in India, where we see young Indian designers challenging and experimenting with the traditional dress culture. They are transforming Indian fashion with sophisticated style experiments and pushing the envelope of what Indian fashion can be. Elegantly or teasingly, the creations of the young designers build bridges between the local and the global, between past and present.

ARKEN is showing colourful, witty, imaginative, sculptural and experimental creations by the seven most prominent young designers: Morphe by Amit Aggarwal, Little Shilpa, Manish Arora, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Prashant Verma, Varun Sardana and 11.11 by Cell DSGN.

Read more: arken.dk/../udstillinger/india_fashion_now

The exhibition is supported by Holck-Larsen Fonden and part of the huge project and festival India Today Copenhagen Tomorrow.



Share on Facebook

Latest articles

Popular keywords

agriculture architecture bicycles business city planning climate co-creation corruption crafts creativity Denmark design education fashion film food genetic research Grundtvig happiness heritage India india_denmark innovation interview lifestyle literature management culture media museums music peace performing arts research science and research social responsibility sustainability Søren Kierkegaard technology theatre tourism video visual arts welfare wind power youth