The enduring appeal of artist Jitish Kallat’s lunar rotis

The enduring appeal of artist Jitish Kallat’s lunar rotis

Jitish Kallat's interests lie in celestial cycles, circadian rhythms and the mysterious orbital geometry of the moon, earth and sun.

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Of heaven and earth: Conditions Apply II artwork (Courtesy: Jitish Kallat Studio)

What is it about the moon that speaks to you?

I’m very interested in celestial cycles, circadian rhythms and the mysterious orbital geometry of the moon, earth and sun. Isn’t it fascinating that the diameter of the moon multiplied approximately 108 times equals the distance to the earth, and approximately 108 times the diameter of the earth gets us to the sun? They govern our biological cycles and everyday living. A deeper reflection on some of these ideas through art opens up questions that may not register in our everyday cognition.

When did you first ‘notice’ the moon?

The first time the image of the moon may have appeared in my work would be in the late ’90s. References to the sun and moon appeared in my drawings or some of the large canvases that I painted soon after art school. The first instance when the image of the roti morphed with that of the moon was in a work from 2003, titled Conditions Apply. At that time I was primarily interested in the way the image of the moon pointed to the idea of time, luminosity, abundance and dearth, fullness and emptiness. It was several years later that the lunar rotis got organised in a form of a lunar cycle within a work titled Conditions Apply II in 2010.

Tell us about the work, Epilogue.

Conditions Apply II was being exhibited at my solo exhibition at Haunch of Venison in London titled the “Astronomy of the Subway” in 2010. Quite inexplicably, while standing in front of this work, I kept thinking about my father’s life. The persistent balancing of resources and cycles of scarcity, that comes as a part of everyday middle-class existence, marked his life. This work began to acquire personal meaning and while standing in the gallery, I had the desire to see every moon that my father saw in his 63 years.


On my return to Mumbai, over the next several months, my study was pinned up with all phases of the 22,889 moons that he saw in his lifetime. Spending months with these lunar images became the genesis for Epilogue.

Is the roti as moon a way of connecting the terrestrial with the celestial?

That’s an interesting way to interpret this morphing. The process of making art is one of finding relationships and through the relationships one finds an emergence of unforeseen meaning.

Which works, inspired by the moon, have stayed with you?

A few years after I made Conditions Apply, I had a beautiful experience with artist Jogen Chowdhury who loved this work. He sang a few lines from by Bengali poet Sukanta Bhattacharya, whose work I was unfamiliar with. I found an online translation later.

It goes: “Poetry, we do not need you any more. A world devastated by hunger is rendered so prosaic, the full moon looks like singed bread”.

Besides this, Galileo’s renditions of the moon are amongst the most sublime drawings… They are not mere astronomical records but great works of art.