When Heiner Müller (1929-1995) wrote the play Hamletmachine in Berlin in 1977, Germany was a divided country whose most potent symbol was its former (and present) capital. The play shocked audiences at the time of its production with its unflinching look at the wellsprings of vulnerability and fear that turn groups of people against their neighbors and seems nothing less than prophetic today. In light of seemingly unending border conflicts that dominate the news, Müller’s play chillingly deconstructs the collective myths of vicitimization and redemption that cause disenfranchised groups to turn against one another, resulting in frequently catastrophic loss of lives.
By appropriating fragments of Müller’s play and transforming them into a parable of Hindu-Muslim conflicts in South Asia, the Bombay-based artist Nalini Malani (b. 1946, Karachi) in her video installation Hamletmachine reaches past explanations of the India/Pakistan conflict that rely strictly on religious and nationalist sentiments, to offer a more universal viewpoint. In the images, texts, and voiceovers that inhabit the walls of her video installation, the “other” is starkly rendered as a kind of phantasm, an elusive prey that menaces us at the same moment it pleads for our understanding. Despite her appeal to our better natures, Malani’s interpretation of Müller’s vision echoes the German writer’s pessimism concerning the power of fear to overwhelm reason.
This presentation of Hamletmachine at Zenith Media Lounge is Nalini Malani’s first one-person museum exhibition in the U.S