John Hansard Gallery presents Tangled Hierarchy, curated by Jitish Kallat

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John Hansard Gallery presents Tangled Hierarchy, curated by Jitish Kallat
One of the envelopes on which Mahatma Gandhi wrote notes at his meeting with Lord Mountbatten, June 2, 1947. Courtesy of University of Southampton Special Collections.

SOUTHAMPTON.- John Hansard Gallery, part of the University of Southampton, is presenting Tangled Hierarchy, an exhibition that centres on a collection of five humble yet remarkable used envelopes. Each envelope is addressed to Mahatma Gandhi and all are now carefully conserved within the Mountbatten Archive at the University of Southampton.

On Monday, June 2, 1947, Lord Louis Mountbatten (the newly appointed Viceroy of India) met with Mahatma Gandhi to discuss the imminent partition of the Indian subcontinent, a proposition strongly opposed by Gandhi. As a consequence of Gandhi undertaking a vow of silence on Mondays, he communicated with Mountbatten by writing notes on the backs of used envelopes, which are now the only surviving record of their exchange. Tangled Hierarchy opened on June 2, 2022, marking 75 years to the day since this momentous meeting.

The artist, Jitish Kallat, was invited by John Hansard Gallery to curate an exhibition that considers the Mountbatten Archive and the “Gandhi envelopes” as a reference point for a series of artistic conversations and correspondences. Combining archival and scientific artefacts, alongside works by contemporary artists, Tangled Hierarchy explores the various relationships between silence and speech, visibility and invisibility, partitioned land, bodies, and phantom pain. Themes of maps, borders, recurring cycles and unsettling displacement are woven throughout the exhibition.

Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter, 2012

Alongside Tangled Hierarchy, John Hansard Gallery presents the first UK showing of Jitish Kallat’s immersive installation Covering Letter.

Taking the form of words projected onto a curtain of cascading fog, the piece presents a historical letter by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler, written just weeks before the start of World War II. In the spirit of his principle of universal friendship, Gandhi begins the letter with the greeting “Dear friend.” Mist diffuses Gandhi’s projected words, echoing the fate of his message, which went unheeded. Kallat describes this correspondence as a plea from a great advocate of peace to one of the most violent individuals who ever lived. It is equally an open invitation for self-reflection, as its scrolling words speak to the extreme violence in the world today.

Kallat’s work often represents history through the actions and words of historical figures. Kallat has described the correspondence within Covering Letter as a plea from a great advocate of peace to one of the most violent individuals who ever lived. Shown in close proximity to Mykola Ridnyi’s Seacoast, Mahatma Gandhi’s plea for peace resonates across history to address Vladimir Putin and the current war in Ukraine.

In both Tangled Hierarchy and Covering Letter, Kallat revisits potent historical documents, drawing attention to the possibilities of peace and tolerance in a world plagued by violence, control, and surveillance. Themes of violence, displacement, trauma and rupture are echoed throughout Tangled Hierarchy and Covering Letter demonstrating the cyclical nature of human history and how calls for peace repeatedly go unheeded.

Jitish Kallat was born in 1974 in Mumbai, India, where he continues to live and work. His solo exhibitions include: Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago), Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (Mumbai), the Ian Potter Museum of Art (Melbourne), Frist Art Museum (Nashville), Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia). In 2017, the National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi) presented a mid-career survey of his work titled Here After Here 1992–2017, curated by Catherine David. Kallat was the curator and artistic director of Whorled Explorations, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 and he curated I draw, therefore I think for the SouthSouth Platform in 2021.

John Hansard Gallery and Jitish Kallat would like to extend particular thanks to Archives and Special Collections at the University of Southampton Library, Professor Sunil Manghani at Winchester School of Art, and Partition Museum, Amritsar for their invaluable help in making this exhibition possible.

Curated by Jitish Kallat

Including contributions by: Kader Attia, Kim Beom, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mahatma Gandhi, Mona Hatoum, Partition Museum, Sir Roger Penrose, Paul Pfeiffer, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Mykola Ridnyi, Roger Shepard, Homai Vyarawalla, Alexa Wright, Zarina

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