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Just as rudimentary rubber stamps are icons of control in every day life in India, and are used everywhere from government offices, to banks, to courts, schools, and libraries, the rubber stamp is an icon in the internationally celebrated Reena Saini Kallat’s work. Kallat (b. 1973 in New Delhi) lives and works in Bombay and studied painting at the Sir JJ School of Art, and she is best known for her installations that combine painting, sculpture, video, and photography in ways that make viewers question assumptions about the world around them. Her work has been exhibited in important India-themed exhibitions, including the 2012 exhibition ‘India Today’ at Arken in Denmark, the 2011 exhibition ‘Maximum India’ at the Kennedy center, and the 2010 exhibition ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ at the Saatchi Gallery, and she was recently named the winner of the ZegnArt Public award in collaboration with the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Bombay.  

Kallat has been using the rubber stamp medium since 2003, making an ironic statement by creating figurative works out of these bureaucratic paraphernalia, which is also a symbol of a faceless state. This faceless state has the power both to confirm and to obscure identities. In a series called ‘Synonym’ from 2007-2009, Kallat gave faces to many of the identities that went missing in various geographic zones of India, using 14 languages and thousands of names to form portraits of individuals that could have gone missing, reminding viewers of the human problem that gets lost in bureaucratic stamps and statistics. Research is a key component of Kallat’s works, and she tries to connect with the humanity behind the statistics she encounters through her art practice. In a series of work called ‘Falling Fables’ from 2011, Kallat used stamps containing the addresses of missing monuments that were technically protected under the Archeological Survey of India, creating forms of architectural ruins that highlight the state of collapse and fracture from collective memory that is happening in India, and around the world, today. One of the monumental works that was shown at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. used over 30,000 rubber stamps.

Nearly a decade after creating her first works with rubber stamps, Kallat has expanded the scope and scale of her work with the medium, creating monumental sculptures that extend into the public realm that stamps are meant to control. In her largest work to date, commissioned by the ZegnArt Public Art project in collaboration with the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Bombay, Kallat covered the façade of the museum with a spider web-like structure made of rubber stamps blown up to a larger scale and bearing the former names of streets surrounding the museum and highlighting lost histories. The organic form of the work is placed near the city’s public zoo, and has become a monument in the city of Bombay. This work builds upon Kallat’s previous works with webs, which explore the idea of migration and those who control it.  In the 2011 Goteborg International Biennial of Contemporary Art, the artist created Untitled (Map/Drawing), an intricate map of the world that used electrical wires and fittings to trace the often hidden migration patterns of laborers. In this work, Kallat created a web that highlights a rich global phenomenon of cultural exchange that is often overshadowed by economic agendas. The work also contained an audio component that mixed high pitch electrical sounds with elements of industry such as factory sirens, ship horns, and telephone rings.

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