Rina Banerjee, who was born in Kolkata, India and lives in New York, works with a cosmopolitan eclecticism that reflects both her transnational background and her sophisticated understanding of the narrative power of objects. Using trinkets made for the tourist trade — horn, bone, feathers, shells, textiles, glass bottles and antiques — she assembles rapturous sculptures that are mystifyingly shamanistic, yet overflowing with connotation. Her works are hyper-ornamented and lushly seductive. Conjoining rarities with cheap, mass-produced bric-a-brac, she appropriates extravagantly while rejecting hierarchies of material, culture and value.
In Banerjee’s paintings and delicate drawings on paper, female figures float in chimerical landscapes, often in states of transformation or with hybrid features of birds and beasts. Her titles are long, free-form refrains that immerse the viewer in the physical and emotional space of the work, heightening its quasi-mystical magnetism.
In a 2011 feature in Artforum, Banerjee describes the foundations of her work:
My mother told me that my first name is special because it is not typical in India—it is spelled differently. Hence, I was free to be what I wanted, or so I presumed. I was born in Calcutta, but I grew up in London and, then, New York, where I now live. Growing up abroad [as we called it] was a strange experience in the 1960s; there were so few Indians in the West. My parents saw themselves as international citizens. Maybe they imagined a future that we are just beginning to glimpse. I dream of this willingness to close the gaps between cultures, communities, and places. I think of identity as inherently foreign; of heritage as something that leaks away from the concept of home—as happens when one first migrates. Even my interest in science embodies an awareness of other worlds, worlds that coexist with us, but which we cannot experience or know. The sky, the stars, and the earth contain so much more than we think.
Freedom is the most expensive commodity; nature the most dangerous beauty. My work examines both. My art depicts a delicate world that is also aggressive, tangled, manipulated, fragile, and very, very dense.
Rina Banerjee (b. 1963, Kolkata, India) received a BS in Polymer Engineering and worked as a research chemist before completing her MFA at Yale in 1995. Her work was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, the 2005 and 2015 Greater New York Shows at PS1/MOMA, the 2013 Venice Biennale’s Murano Glass Project, and the 2015 Asian Art Biennial at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (Taichung). Recent solo exhibitions include the Smithsonian Museum’s Sackler Galleries (Washington DC) and the Musée Guimet (Paris). Her work is in the collections of the Devi Art Foundation (New Delhi), Kiran Nadar Museum (New Delhi), Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), The Brooklyn Museum (New York), Berkeley Art Museum (Berkeley, CA), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), and many others.
Heavens no place for girls..., 2016
if lotion and potion could heal--for certain her oils..., 2006
Preternatural passage came from wet whiteness..., 2011
Where I came from was water and salt..., 2015
Unthinkable skirt, 2015
Hanuman's flight is evolution's climb, 2012
Lady of Commerce. Hers is a transparent beauty..., 2012
In transparent soil she spoke to welcome..., 2015
Sex-bait, in likeness to fish bait..., 2017
In a delicate storm of some mystery they fluttered..., 2006
Sap of earth n' blood, leaky, which adaptation may deliver, 2017
Jack Fruit Johnny she was a diasporic Devi..., 2015
Friendly Fire, 2015
Sita's Lick, a shower of little leaks, curls of fine fire..., 2014
Take me, take me, take me to the Palace of Love, 2003
Beast of Dispossession, 2014
Ugly boy. I saw him-he was thick in parts..., 2014
Her jama would jingle as she stamped on her earth..., 2011