Nina Mangalanayagam

Nina Mangalanayagam

Nina Mangalanayagam explores themes of belonging and hybridity, often using a semi-autobiographical approach.

Nina Mangalanayagam is a visual artist working with still and moving Image based in London. She has a Masters in Photography from the Royal College of Art and a PhD by practice from the University of Westminster.

In her practice, Nina analyses the shifting points of identification one experiences as a mixed heritage subject, to explore the dichotomy of black and white notions of identity.

Nina Mangalanayagam exhibits and screens her work regularly. Recent institutions include Whitechapel Art Gallery, Nottingham Contemporary, the Colombo Biennale, Sri Lanka, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Nina won the Jerwood Photography Award in 2005 was short-listed for ArtsAdmin’s Decibel Visual Artist Award in 2006. Nina’s photographs will be published in a forthcoming book, A-Z of Conflict, published by Raking Leaves in 2017.


HD Video / 11:00 min / 2009

Movements and gestures help us to connect and communicate with people around us, but the same gestures also divide people. Our movements often become the unexplainable difference between people from different worlds, be countries or class. Our body language can act as a barrier in between people and create misunderstandings and hostilities.

The video displays a performance by the artist attempting to do the Indian Head Nod, which is used heavily in South Asia for yes, no or maybe as well as in Indian dance. Members from one part of the artist’s family use the movement, but she is unable to imitate it. She cannot do the movement properly and the piece is about the struggle of trying to fit in, to adapt to someone else’s behaviour and the frustration of learning how. The piece comments on the failure of language, including body language.

Her attempt lasts for ten minutes, where the viewer can witness an increasing frustration in my movements, since she repeatedly fails to do it right. The piece is silent but with subtitles exposing personal fragments from the artist’s own experience: meetings with her Tamil family, personal stories on the relationship she had as a child to her father’s background and to her own otherness in Swedish society.

Balancing Act

HD Video / 10:00 min / 2012

Across a split screen, a pair of female feet walk the coloured lines marked out on the floor of a sports hall, tracing the boundaries of the basketball or badminton courts. Shot from a low angle the viewer is never allowed to see any other part of the artist, dislocating her from the scene.

Taking inspiration from historical mapping and the origins of sports rules, Nina questions what it means to be in between, to cross physical and mental borders. The accompanying music composed by Oliver Barrett echoes the national anthems from Sweden, Denmark, Sri Lanka and Britain. They hint at Nina’s migratory history while the text reveals collected and personal anecdotes revealing internal negotiations of cultural hybridity.

“Balancing Act” is a disorientating experience, questioning the rigidity and arbitrariness of systems we take for granted, the maps and borders, how these may be negotiated and how we might fall between.

We call her Pulle

3 Channel HD Video / 22:00 min / 2015

‘We call her Pulle’ focuses on the artist’s relationship to her aunt, Pulle, and their relationship to the camera. Pulle lives on the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka, where Nina’s father was born. She traveled there after the civil war there had ended, and before that she had little relationship to her aunt and to Sri Lanka.

The completed artwork aims to contest ideas of origin and the stories we construct about ourselves, and to question assumptions and attitudes that Nina has brought with her from her European background. It questions the ways in which we build an image of our past and ourselves, through our parents’ memories, historical narratives and visual framing. The stories Nina’s late father told her does not correspond to the stories she is told now, or to Jaffna after the destruction of war. Her aunt’s experience can never give her an understanding of her father or her place of origin.