Best known for his video projections on paintings, Ranbir Kaleka’s work explores a wide array of issues including migration, South Asian history and the subjective experience of time.
Kaleka was born in Patiala, Punjab, where he lived with his family until he was five years old. His childhood fascination with cinema, particularly his later fascination with video art, influenced his desire to become an artist. In 1975, he received a diploma in painting from the College of Art, Punjab University, Chandigarh, following which he taught for ten years at the Fine Arts department of the university’s College for Women and the College of Art, New Delhi. Between 1985 and 1987, Kaleka studied for a Master’s in painting from the Royal College of Art, London, on a Charles Wallace Scholarship. He returned to India in the late 1990s, soon after which he began experimenting with video projection, inspired by the works of artists such as Nalini Malani and Vivan Sundaram.
Kaleka’s early works were paintings that were characterised by their surrealist imagery, which frequently included human and animal forms, erotic and mythological symbolism and burlesque figures and movements. His works after his return to India, such as Man Threading a Needle (1998) and He was a good man (2008), were originally oil paintings that were scanned and edited as frames of a continuous video which was projected onto the original painting. Most of these frames were nearly identical to the original paintings, except for small differences, such as minute movements of the human body. In some cases, Kaleka’s videos include sudden, dynamic scenes that break the near-stillness of the image; a white horse, symbolising the Silk Road, appears in Cul-de-sac in Taxila (2010), and Sweet Unease (2011) and The Dinner (2015) incorporate eroticism and dynamic performance.
After the 2000s, socio-cultural themes, particularly migration, became common in his work, as in Crossings (2005), which comments on the Partition, particularly its experience in Punjab; Not from here (2009), which focused on internal migration within India; and House of Opaque Water (2012), highlighting the endangered livelihoods of communities living in the Sundarbans. More recently, Kaleka returned to static images, which he rendered as digital collages.
Kaleka’s work has been shown at the Fifth Triennale India, New Delhi (1982); Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai (1999); Bose Pacia, New York (2007); Nature Morte, New Delhi (2009); Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi (2011); Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (2013); and Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2020). He received the National Award from the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, in 1979.
As of writing, Kaleka lives and works out of New Delhi.
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