Sunday, March 7, 2021

Gandhi’s call to action | Art Gallery of NSW

Reading Time: 3 minutesIndian artist Jitish Kallat’s acclaimed artwork finally makes it to the Art Gallery of NSW

As you hand over your coat and bag at the Art Gallery of NSW and walk into the entrance foyer past reception, you are immediately arrested by a haunting web of words. The mammoth artwork is a composition depicting Mahatma Gandhi’s public address, delivered on the banks of the River Sabarmati, against the Salt Act imposed by the British Government. Delivered on the eve of the history changing Dandi March in 1930, in the speech, Gandhi called for “complete civil disobedience” and “absolute non-violence”.

Artist Jitish Kallat’s ‘Public Notice 2’ re-establishes the relevance of Gandhi and ahimsa, after eight long and progressive decades, in a world that is currently addicted to aggression and war. Comprising 4,479 individual fibre glass sculptures, each letter of Gandhi’s speech is constructed using bone-like figures shaped like the alphabet, and placed on rows of shelves.

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The second in a series of three ‘Public Notice 1, 2 and 3’ all explore the possibility of revisiting historic speeches as a site of contemplation.

Arts Trust writes of how, when viewing the works, we are “reminded of the legacy that we often take for granted and of the major sacrifices we no longer care to remember, even those that continue to impact our lives”.

Kallat himself has written of the installation, “In today’s terror-infected scenario, wars against terror are fought at prime television time. Now, voices such as Gandhi’s stare back at us like discarded relics. Each alphabet in this speech, like a misplaced relic, will hold up the image of violence in clinical clarity even as their collective chorus makes a plea for peace.”

Jitish Kallat Public Notice 2 2007 (detail) Resin, 4,479 sculptural units Edition 2/3 Display dimensions variable Image courtesy: The Gene & Brian Sherman Collection, and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundatioon, Sydney Photo: Hangar Biocca, Milan

Indeed Arts Trust magazine described the work: “The bones, reminiscent of fossils, spell out each word of this speech, suggesting the irrelevance of history once a populace has moved on.”

Other critics suggest the bones may play on our ideas of death and memories of instinctual survival.

One of India’s most significant contemporary artists, Kallat’s work reflects his connection with his home-town of Mumbai and much of its visual impact references the city’s unique personality.

“The city street is my university,” Kallat has written. “One finds all the themes of life and art – pain, happiness, anger, violence and compassion – played out here in full volume.”

Photo: Raka Sarkhel


For Kallat, scale is one of the many tools he deploys in the creation of meaning. Public Notice 2, like his earlier works Public Notice 1 and Detergent, stands out for its immense scale and proportion. Created in 2007, the piece is a logistically challenging artwork to display, engulfing eager viewers and passive onlookers alike.

Public Notice 2 is on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the ‘Go East: The Gene & Brian Sherman Contemporary Asian Art Collection’, until 5 October.

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