RINA BANERJEE AT THE SAN JOSE MUSEUM OF ART
Now on view at the San Jose Museum of Art through October 6, Rina Banerjee: “Make Me a Summary of the World” is an absolute must-see exhibition of contemporary Indian art in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is the first major retrospective of leading Indian artist Rina Banerjee and features almost two decades of her stunning large-scale installations, sculptures and paintings.
Born in Calcutta and raised between London and New York, Rina Banerjee grew up in diverse and multicultural environments. This early influence can be clearly seen in her multimedia sculptures that incorporate objects not only from India but from around the world such as African jewelry, South Asian antiques and handmade Italian Murano glass. In a single artwork, she celebrates the vibrancy of multiple cultures and explores how the movements of globalization have made these unexpected combinations possible.
As the title of the exhibition “Make Me a Summary of the World” suggests, Banerjee is interested in immigration, identity and globalization, all issues that certainly speak to the South Asian communities in the Bay Area. She balances the presence of international objects with her use of Indian textiles and bright colors, an important connection to her own cultural background and her visits to family in West Bengal. In Banerjee’s words, her “art depicts a delicate world that is also aggressive, tangled, manipulated, fragile, and very, very dense.”
One of the central installations of the exhibition is “Take me, take me, take me…to the Palace of Love,” an 18-foot tall bright pink replica of the Taj Mahal. Primarily made of cellophane, the hot pink hue refers to vividly colorful Indian wedding traditions. Banerjee believes that viewers can learn from the original Taj Mahal, which is now more than 300 years old, and its emphasis on equality in design. Connecting history to today is an important aspect of her artwork.
Other works in the exhibition are textured sculptures that incorporate varied materials such as sequins, Indian sarees, seashells, silk, pearls, gold wire, glass bottles, porcelain, plastic and colorful feathers. The materials mix both inexpensive and luxurious goods from all over the world, creating ultimate pieces that would not have been conceivable only a century ago. Most of these sculptures have not been shown before in California, having debuted at prestigious exhibitions such as the 2000 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the 2017 Venice Biennale in Italy; and the Prospect 4 New Orleans Biennial in Louisiana.
This exhibition represents an exciting moment not only for Banerjee but for contemporary Indian art in the United States overall. It is an inspiring sign of the growing interest in South Asian art to have this major solo exhibition of an Indian artist traveling to two prominent American art museums – it first opened at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in October 2018 before coming to the San Jose Museum in May 2019.
Rina Banerjee: “Make Me a Summary of the World” closes this week on Sunday, October 6, so be sure to visit the San Jose Museum of Art before then. The museum is open from 11am to 5pm on weekends, and they are also offering free admission this Friday, October 4 from 5 to 9pm as part of their Facebook First Fridays program.
For more resources on contemporary Indian art in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out our Resources page on local Indian art museums, galleries and institutions.
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan