Reena Saini Kallat Examines Everything From Bureaucracy To Hidden Numbers

3. Earth Families

The first time you look at Woven Chronicle, it looks like an innocent enough work. It’s a world map connected with colourful threads. What could be the meaning? The good old message of how the world is one family, global Indian, the works? A deeper probe reveals fascinating, even unsettling feelings—Reena Saini Kallat seems concerned with the porosity of borders, how they violently cut across homes and spaces, ignoring the lives inside them. The superficiality of it all.

But Kallat never imagined taking up art as a profession. How could something so intuitive become monetary? “It was only when I started reading art history that I realised art does not come from a magical space,” she says. “It is entrenched in the context of where you are located, and so on. That’s when I realised I’d found something closer to me.”

From mixed media, sculptures, photography and everything in between, for Kallat, it’s the inversion of the objects and tools that are used to otherwise infuse mundaneness into the larger scheme of things. She has used the motif of the rubber stamp both as an object and an imprint that signifies the bureaucratic apparatus. Here, the rubber stamps hold the official names of people who have disappeared for a wide variety of reasons, fallen by the wayside or are restricted to the margins.

“The things that got left behind, the loss of ethics, of discernment, of being able to look at our strengths that lie in our diversity and yet the loss of those values as citizens in a bureaucratic society,” she says. “I worked with the rubber stamp for over two decades and how it makes people invisible along the margins.”

For Kallat, even the map has a certain bearing on the region, the way we perceive the world, and the way maps have shaped our understanding of the world. “Every map is a distortion because a three-dimensional sphere, the globe, is flattened into a two-dimensional sheet. The inequities between the north and south in the world map also reflect who’s more privileged and lesser.”

In her 2013 work, Measurement from Evaporating Oceans, the concentric rings symbolise the ironically titled ’Independence wars‘ fought across the world.

“We keep battling over our differences, and there is so much that is shared between us,” Kallat says. “So, those ideas of foregrounding the many bonds beyond the borders have informed much of my work. To think that most of our conflicts are related to land, water and air, our shared heritage, is quite telling.”

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