On September 11 visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago will have a chance to view Indian contemporary artist Jitish Kallat’s  Public Notice 3, a major new installation on the timely and important theme of religious tolerance.

In recent years Jitish Kallat has emerged as one of the most exciting figures on the Indian contemporary art scene. His new installation follows previous works Public Notice andPublic Notice 2. Each work in the series resurrects and magnifies the text of a significant historical speech, rendering the words in symbolic media on a large scale.

Public Notice 3, Kallat’s first major exhibition in the United States, draws on the lasting repercussions of two historical moments. One is the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. The other is an address by a young Hindu monk from India, given in Chicago over a century ago during the World Columbian Exhibition, in a  building that is now part of the Art Institute.

The speech by Swami Vivekananda highlighted one of the most significant international gatherings associated with the Exhibition:  the first World’s Parliament of Religions, which opened on September 11, 1893.  This high-profile event was one of the first formal encounters between representatives of Western and Eastern religions, and launched a movement for interreligious dialog and understanding that has lasted to this day.

In his speech addressed to “sisters and brothers of America”, before an audience of 7000, Swami Vivekananda issued a plea for religious tolerance across faiths and an end to “bigotry and fanaticism.”  Now, on the ninth anniversary of 9-11, Kallat’s work displays the text of the speech on the 118 risers of the Art Institute’s Grand Staircase. LED displays bring Vivekananda’s words back to life, with a sadly ironic twist: His call for universal dialog and understanding is displayed in the five colors of the Department of Homeland Security alert system for possible terrorist activity.

The work invites reflection on the message of the speech itself in the context of September 11, and also on how ideas of universalism and religious tolerance have been embraced or rejected by different groups, and at different points in history.

Kallat addressed the significance of historical texts in commenting on his 2008 work ‘Public Notice 2′. “Blurred and sometimes forgotten due to the passage of time, the historical speech is fore-grounded and held up as an apparatus to grade our feats and follies as nations, as humankind,” the artist wrote.

In that previous work Kallat used the text of a speech by Gandhi, at the outset of the famous 1930 Salt March.  He created bone-like letters out of fiberglass to present Gandhi’s address, in which he formulated his code of conduct for civil disobedience based on peace and non-violence.

“In today’s terror-infected world, where wars against terror are fought at prime television time, voices such as Gandhi’s stare back at us like discarded relics,” Kallat wrote.

In addition to his installations Jitish Kallat has worked in a wide variety of media including painting, sculpture and photography, and has shown widely in group and solo exhibitions in Europe and Asia.

Public Notice 3 breaks new ground in the U.S., being the first major solo show by an Indian contemporary artist in a top-tier American museum. The work will be on display from September 11, 2010 to January 2, 2011.

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