For artist Holly Lee, many of the works featured in her new solo exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum hold a special significance.
Rina Banerjee was born in Kolkata, India; immigrated to London at the age of 3 and to New York at 7.
After graduating from Yale School of Art in 1995, it did not take long for Rina Banerjee’s career to have weight. In 1997, she had her first solo exhibition, Home Within a Harem, at Colgate University, and was included in two group shows, AIM curated by Marisol Nieves at the Bronx Museum and “Out of India” curated by the late Jane Farver of the Queens Museum. Following shows in New York, Virginia, Toronto, Hartford, and South Africa, Banerjee was invited to participate in the 2000 Whitney Biennial. Since then her work has been in dozens of solo and group shows, as well as in biennials throughout the world.
As an international artist and post-colonial feminist scholar and humanist, Banerjee has written that “origin is no place at all and can only be fabricated out of difference, division designed out of exclusion and extraordinary harm. Country as home is a contemporary concept riddled with empires….” Her work speaks to being uprooted, war, American imperialism, searching for identity, and being the other even in the place where one was born or where one lives.
There is an ambiguity and a complexity in Rina Banerjee’s work that leaves viewers pondering questions rarely asked. The meandering language that makes up her titles must be read and reread. Her landscapes may have trees and flowers, but are just as likely to have disembodied faces or figures floating through shapeless space. Even when seated, her figures seem untethered, unrooted, and not of a particular place. Shapes lie somewhere between abstraction and natural forms leaning in on both.
While her drawings, paintings and prints mix imagery that is uniquely hers, Banerjee’s sculptures are an accumulation of found objects. She creates meaning in the juxtaposition of these objects, some natural, some manmade, often sourced locally, but clearly from the global marketplace.
In She Would Be a Vision, a marble bust occupies the central space. From there, strings radiate back to mirrors that hang salon style on the wall. How we view ourselves and others and how we are connected to the systems that define beauty and ugliness are underpinnings of the artist’s work.
Deciphering Rina Banerjee’s art is an act of exploration and transformation, of reaching into realms that are familiar yet unfamiliar. She brings us into the world of the diaspora where dreams of the future and the past, the imagined, the real, the unknown share the same space.