12436 - 20170305 - Philadelphia Museum of Art presents "Covering Letter" by contemporary artist Jitish Kallat - Philadelphia, PA - 13.11.2016-05.03.2017

View of Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2016.
On November 13, 2016, Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter, an immersive installation by one of India’s leading contemporary artists, opened at the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The presentation of Covering Letter celebrates a recent gift to the Museum from trustee Ajay Raju and is the premiere of this work in the United States. It will remain on view until March 5, 2017.
Covering Letter fills an entire gallery with a video projection onto a curtain of mist created by a ceiling-mounted fog machine. It features Mahatma Gandhi’s historical letter written to Adolf Hitler on July 23, 1939, just weeks before the start of World War II. In the spirit of Gandhi’s doctrine of universal friendship, his letter begins with the salutation, “Dear friend…” and offers a passionate plea to Hitler to pursue peace rather than war. In Kallat’s installation, the movement of the visitor’s passing body through the fog diffuses Gandhi’s text, echoing the fate of a plea that went unheeded. The artist describes the letter as a petition from a great advocate of pacifism to one of the world’s most vicious dictators. It is also an open invitation for self-reflection, as Gandhi’s utterances speak to the increasing manifestations of violence in the world today.

Kallat’s incorporation of Gandhi’s text aligns Covering Letter with the artist’s sustained interest in engaging history through the actions and words of noteworthy figures. In his Public Notice series, the artist staged sculptural and interactive installations that similarly appropriated texts by Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s first prime minister), and Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda. In revisiting these historical documents, Kallat calls attention to the possibilities of peace and tolerance in a world plagued by violence, control, and surveillance.

Covering Letter (2012) is the first work by the artist to enter the Museum’s collection. The exhibition is presented as part of the Museum’s Live Cinema series, which is dedicated to exploring the vast production of contemporary video and film work.

Born in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in 1974, Jitish Kallat has produced a diverse body of work, spanning painting, photography, drawing, video, and sculptural installations.

The artist first gained recognition in the United States in 2010–11 with the presentation of Public Notice 3, a large-scale site specific installation that lit up the grand staircase at the Art Institute of Chicago. Kallat’s work has been exhibited in a number of solo and group exhibitions at institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2016); Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai (2016); the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2012); the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (2011); the Center for Art and Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe, Germany, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (both 2007); and the Tate Modern, London (2001).

Kallat received his B.A. in painting from the Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai in 1996. His works are also represented in public and private collections worldwide, including the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Singapore Art Museum; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan; and the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Kallat, who is based in Mumbai, last visited Philadelphia in 2014 to present a lecture at the Museum focusing on his efforts as Artistic Director of the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2014, India’s first international biennial of contemporary art.