There must be a greater cosmic weight to the phrase “an artist’s vision”. And to why artist Jitish Kallat began to ponder all the moons his deceased father had seen in his lifetime; to why it was important for him at all to see what his father had seen.
The piece de resistance of Kallat’s latest exhibition, which comes three years after his last solo in Mumbai, is a phenomenal 753-piece photographic installation of all the lunar cycles his father witnessed till he died in December 1998 at the age of 62.
Personal imprint: Kallat signing prints at his studio in Mumbai. Photo: Sanskrit Kumar/Mint
While loss and nostalgia are the top soil, Kallat replaces the various moons with chapattis, traditional Indian flat bread, to evoke themes of sustenance, life and death. What the viewer will see when the exhibition opens next week at Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road gallery are approximately 22,500 chapatti moons arranged and photographed as 753 lunar cycles.
The moon cycles will be arranged chronologically, Kallat explains, in a dark and winding corridor. The exhibition design is such that the viewer must experience Epilogue, as this installation is called, as the first artwork of the show.
The exhibition, Stations of a Pause, incorporates video, sculptural installation, photography and large-format paintings. It is an important show for Kallat, a homecoming after much international showmanship, most recently with Public Notice 3 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
But Epilogue is clearly the show stealer. What makes it even more important—and arguably problematic—is how intensely personal it is for Kallat.
Kallat has been touching upon similar themes of sustenance in his Conditions Apply series, which dealt with the waxing and waning moon substituted with chapattis. The full chapatti and the half-eaten one, and all the stages in between, connoted ideas of deprivation and excess.
One previous work resonated particularly with Epilogue. After his father died in 1998, Kallat worked on a piece called 22,000 Sunsets. The painting had images of people exiting a railway station, bearing a sunset each. “But the title, which was given later, came from the number of sunsets my father had seen in his lifetime,” says Kallat, who’s gone back to thinking about this 2001 painting now.
Epilogue seems to bring together a 10-year process for Kallat: Conditions Apply I and II, which were created in 2004 and 2010, respectively, and the peculiar happenstance of 22,000 Sunsets.
“At the time I was making 22,000 Sunsets, no one would have realized it was biographical, not even me,” says Kallat from his studio in Mumbai, where he was still busy hand-inscribing dates on each print when we spoke. With Epilogue, the biographical impulse is clearer.
But Kallat shares that he was resisting creating Epilogue precisely because of this, because of its strong biographical leanings. Then he decided that the only way to go through with his dilemma was to create the work.
Not everyone will journey from the same point while viewing Epilogue. A specific date, a specific lunar cycle might appeal to one viewer. While signing the prints, Kallat had a thought. “Somewhere in the middle of all this is my life. I haven’t even reached the point I was born yet.”
Walking through the exhibition corridor, seeing all the lunar cycles at once, 62 years might suddenly seem too short.
This is the point of departure for Kallat’s artwork: The last lunar cycle has many moons missing. The corridor continues but the moons fall short. Like life, the piece ends half-cycle.
Stations of a Pause will open at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai, on 22 March and run till 10 May.