Rina Banerjee title graphic

Recognizing the central role people play in the world’s rapidly changing ecosystem, Banerjee creates a chimerical scene that defines humanity’s interactions with nature in terms of transformation and destruction. By combining organic objects such as oyster and cowrie shells, ostrich eggs, and pigeon feathers with products that often appear to be natural but are actually made from synthetic materials, she envisions a relationship between humanity and nature that might one day be interdependent and nonhierarchical. At the same time, such juxtapositions of the natural and artificial bring to mind the toxic impact on the environment of the production and disposal of manufactured goods.

Excessive flower, hour by hour, banal and decorative, banished and vanished of power, reckless and greased she steals like jewel thieves, fierce, always in theater as actor, often captured in oils, thrown in air, robbed in vitality as death appears for all who have more color—see her as unequal in sting to sun and processions of pomp if in marriage and funeral bearing in mind possessions of inheritance acquired. 2017

Women did do this in shining when her spare threads and vines crimped, wrinkled in lines could force a clear high shimmer of Bud, blue black flower all boney and new, will upon will, came with whispers of new, 2017

Cotton thread, cowrie shells, glass bottles, wire, linen, silk, mirrors, vintage trim, cable, steel armatures, copper tubes, seed beads, porcupine needles, cock feathers, peacock hairs, faux eyelashes, speakers, Frozen Charlotte doll heads

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Museum Purchase, 2016.37a and 2016.37b

The use of cowrie shells in these sculptures evokes the history of commodity exchange in much of the world. These shells traveled via ancient trade routes, such as the Silk Road, through China, India, and eventually the African coast, becoming one of the most widely used currencies in history until they were replaced by modern monetary systems. No longer a medium of exchange, the shells continue to circulate within a global market as decorative elements. With one click, Banerjee can purchase a variety of cowrie shells and have them delivered to her studio in two days or less.

Both sculptures emit sounds, such as the humming of bees and the undulating music of a “snake charmer.” These are overlaid with music by Rudresh Mahanthappa, a saxophonist and composer, whose jazz is infused with musical traditions from around the world.

Bacteria: In combat 540 wild beasts in green fury took refuge in curdled milk, kindled friendship with nomads skimmed butter as treasure absconded with proteins warmed milk until certain odor blew more flora, 2012

Acrylic on watercolor paper

Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Shanghai/Singapore/Tokyo

The reference to bacteria in this work’s title suggests the setting of a petri dish—a glass container in which disparate biological cultures grow. The duality of the term culture is not lost on Banerjee. Here the bacteria are personified in a scene that churns with movement and gives the sense of an incomplete environment in a state of formation.

Tropicalization of nature, Henri-Rousseau restraint, 2007

Horn, feather fans, gourds, bulbs, wood, fabric, peacock feathers, metal bells

Private collection, Paris, France, courtesy of Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels

Lentil flour, chickpeas mixed fermented friedballs presented in the leaf of bananas could cure the hunger of a labouring man, 2008

Shells, plastic, gourds, nylon hair

Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels

Winter’s Flower—Raw materials from sea and from foul and even from some exotic mice was eaten by a world hungry for commerce made these into flower, disguised could be savored alongside whitened rice, 2009

Oyster shells, fish bone, thread, cowrie shells, fur, deity eyes, copper trim, ostrich egg, epoxy American buffalo horn replicas, steel, fabricated umbrella structure, steel stand, pigeon-feather fans

Collection of the San José Museum of Art. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Lipman Acquisitions Fund with additional funds contributed by the Acquisitions Committee, 2018.10

Banerjee has observed that large-scale sculpture is historically a “treasured male domain.” As a female artist, she sees “a kind of trespass” in producing sculptural works, especially her large and unapologetically excessive creations. Winter’s Flower highlights the ways in which people impact nature. Oyster shells, for example, serve as a reminder of the damage caused by overconsumption and pollution, which have led to the decline of the oyster population over the past one hundred years.

Bone flower, 2007

Mixed media

Private collection, Paris, France, courtesy of Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels

Umbrella of fruit fell to her green reason, 2007

Acrylic and ink on paper

Collection of Charles Betlach II

Golden Opportunity, 2006

Mixed media on paper

Private collection, courtesy Galleria dello Scudo, Verona, Italy

Many of Banerjee’s drawings suggest a connection between beauty and decay. In Golden Opportunity, this is underscored by the holes burned into the paper, punctuating the gracefully floating forms—feminine and organic—which seem to be ambiguously suspended between formation and disintegration.

A World Lost: after the original island appears, a single land mass is fractured, after population migrated, after pollution revealed itself and as cultural locations once separated did merged, after the splitting of Adam and Eve, shiva and shakti of race black and white, of culture East and West, after animals diminished, after the seas’ corals did exterminate, after this and at last imagine water evaporated . . . this after Columbus found it we lost it, imagine this. 2013

Mixed media

Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels

Mapping the major river systems of Asia, A World Lost reflects on the history of trade and migration along the world’s waterways and the impact of these activities on the environment. Banerjee first conceived of the artwork on a trip to Bangladesh. There, she witnessed two girls collecting and purifying water for the day’s activities—one was digging to reach the water while the other was straining it through cloth. Banerjee was struck by the amount of work required to ensure the impoverished family’s basic survival. The plastic cups in A World Lost allude to this rudimentary collection process while reminding us that such detritus adds to the worldwide glut of nonbiodegradable pollutants.

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