In Eighteen Allegories of the Self, Ranbir Kaleka projects a film onto a black-and-white painting of eighteen candles. The film invigorates the still image as the candles, now rendered in colour, are lit in turns and eventually all together. The candles float above a water body that ebbs and flows gently, reflecting their light. The soundtrack, in synchrony with the moving image, enhances the lyrical quality of the work. After a burst of rain, the candles are extinguished and the film fades out slowly. The film acts as a catalyst that transforms a primary image into a sensory experience that captivates the viewer. The number eighteen, referenced in the title, and reflected in the number of candles, bears cross-cultural symbolic references.
Kaleka notes the significance of the number in Jewish mysticism where it represents life, in the epic Mahabharata that has eighteen sections, involves eighteen armies and is about a war fought over eighteen days, as well as in Chinese tradition, where it denotes prosperity. The Saros cycle of eclipses of the sun and moon takes place over eighteen years, and in most countries, the number is associated with coming-of-age. The candles, associated with illumination, purity, and notably with perceptions of life and death, place viewers into a meditative and reflective mode.