A large void within the National Gallery fills with noise and vast walls as grand master paintings are ripped apart and twisted into new meanings. This is a new video art installation by the contemporary Indian artist, Nalini Malani, and it subverts and delights at the same time.

Malani, who is also the inaugural recipient of the National Gallery’s Contemporary Fellowship, has taken inspiration from the galley’s collection, to create a large video installation — or as she calls it, an animation chamber, with huge video projections onto four of the six surfaces.

Focusing on classical works that trigger a sense of imbalance in modern audiences, her animations rewrite the traditional biblical and mythic scenes in the paintings to allow for alternative endings.

She particularly picked up on the all too typical image in Western art of the woman as subservient to men, or when on par, seen as an affront to the correct order of things.

In a way, this is both familiar and strange, as there’s been an explosion in recent years of turning conventional art into huge immersive spaces, such as Frameless in Marble Arch. However, this is different because its a contemporary take on the concept and not there to show off the grandeur of the Old Masters, but to twist them away from their intent.

It’s at times slightly disorientating, and it’s best to stand very still when the room goes dark, but it’s certainly an experience that’s hard to forget.

The soundtrack was intended to be created as a fresh work by Alaknanda Samarth, who the artist has worked with before, but he died of Covid before the work could be completed. So the chanting sounds that fill the chamber are her earlier recordings, preserved in art as memento mori for the animated paintings on the walls.

The exhibition, Nalini Malani: My Reality is Different is at the National Gallery until 11th June 2023 and entry is free.

The title of the exhibition, “Nalini Malani: My Reality is Different” is drawn from a phrase often associated with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in which the Cheshire Cat is claimed to have said: ‘I’m not crazy, my reality is different from yours.’


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