Nalini Malani
Missionaries of Mammon: Global Parasites


by Chaitanya Sambrani

The three robes along with a series of drawings and a painted book occupied the same space as the painted panels for the Medea project in 1993. On the wall facing the hanging robes was a wall drawing in charcoal of a female Mutant, the disrobed body repeatedly punctured by erasures. This 'postscript' to the Medea project was peculiarly silent. The play is over, the costumes hung up, the survivor a partially effaced image of a sub-human creature and on the floor, Mueller's words from the Medea text,
"I want to break mankind apart in two
And live within the empty middle I
No man and no woman... ."

As Malani has continued with her exploration of issues stemming from the Medea theme, she has sought to evolve the possibilities of addressing the dynamics of interaction between the 'underdeveloped'12 and the 'developed' countries, which is a more complex phenomenon than just an exploitative relation between the North and the South in the international context of a 'globalised' world. Witness for instance how in Medea the colonised (represented metaphorically by the character of Medea) enters into a collaborative relationship with the coloniser (Jason who has come to raid Medea's native Colchis to
steal the prosperity that accrues from the Golden Fleece). Malani's treatment of the theme presents spectacles of extreme psychic tension; the interfacing of Medea's passion and Jason's despoiling make for an end where violence and destruction are the only feasible options left to the protagonist. Her work has given evidence of her sustained involvement with the theme of collaboration and conquest. A painting such as Global Parasites (1995), sees Malani reacting to developments that leave the painted space and figures discoloured even as the 'global economic order' starts dictating power relations in a unipolar world.
The phallic form of the aircraft looms over an allegory of tourism and invasion even as birds and beasts desert the speaking tree. In 1996 Malani was invited to Copenhagen to exhibit her work with ninety-five other artists from around the world in a project called Container '96 - Art Across Oceans. The work was to be made and displayed within a steel shipping container, the containers being grouped together in a spatial alignment that approximated the map of the world. Malani's work for Container '96 was called 'Free' Trade in an ironic comment on the western insistence on 'free' trade which usually translates into freedom for the One-Third World13to use the Two-Thirds World as a store of human and material resources and a dump for unwanted products. Malani's work for the project presented the flip side of the
'free’ trade discourse, a perspective derived from the experience of the colonised. The worker, whether the traditional artisan physically deprived of her/his faculties, or the labourer bonded to slavery for life, has always been the silenced object, paying the price for the freedom of others. Her work made use of illusionistic methods of rendering to represent the cut-off hands of the artisans, an adept handling of the linguistic gesture to speak of domination: a subversion of the code that is the visual language of the historical elite.

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