An exhibition at mid-career at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) of the work of Rina Bannerjee, American born India, 1963.
Make Me A Summary of the World
The main staircase of the 1876 PAFA building, Philadelphia. Designed by the American architects Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt, it combines several 19th century styles of architecture with decorative motifs both Asian and Anglo-American.
PAFA , founded 1802, is the first art museum and institute in the US,
The artist is describing the world of the ‘diaspora’.
Those people who, for whatever, reason, find themselves outside their native civilization.
The search for balance and for psychological integrity is the subject of the artist’s work.
For many hundreds of years, identity has been a matter of choice for those people who chose to move. The wealthy, the lucky, the very few.
Today millions are able to move and for them, also, the artist notes that identity is a matter of choice.
There isn’t really a choice: you have to move on.
The question is how to choose and not lose your mind.
It Rained so She Rained, n.d.
Ink, acrylic, mixed media on handmade paper laid on board. Private collection on loan to this exhibition
Born in Kolkota, Rina Bannerjee left India when she was 3. She and her family were in London until they moved to the United States when she was 7.
The Taj Mahal, Agra, India, 2010
Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii, c. 1853, marble. Randolph Rogers, 1825-1892, American. PAFA, Philadelphia
Hailing the Ferry, 1888, oil on canvas. Daniel Ridgeway Knight, 1839-1924, American. PAFA, Philadelphia
Take Me, take me, take me………to the Palace of Love, 2003
Plastic, antique Anglo-Indian Bombay darkwood chair, steel and copper framework, floral picks, foam balls, cowrie shells, quilting pins, red-coloured moss, antique stone globe, glass, synthetic fabric, shells, fake birds. Courtesy of the artist.
A poignant title because this building is, of course, the finest example of Islamic art in India: a faith whose adherents have paid and continue to pay a high price in hate on Indian soil.
The artist is not prescribing solutions.
(Are there solutions? Or only adaptive mechanisms?)
She is describing the status quo of exile, of being foreign, alien, other, to one degree or another for all of a life.
And of piecing together a way of being.
Nor is the crossing of an international boundary the only way you become alien. There are boundaries within a single country which are also electrified.
Her black growth produced such a sprinkle of ultimate fears that a shadow of silver emerged from it to watch herself watching and followed all worldly movements. 2006
Mixed media on paper. Loaned to this exhibition by a private collection.
As we know, cultures do not reduce to each other even if they they all resolve the problems of human societies.
However, they rank and resolve these problems differently.
Cross a cultural boundary and individuals can find themselves unbalanced, sometimes paralyzed and occasionally blown up.
Bone Flower, 2007.
Mixed media. Private collection on loan to this exhibition
Nor do the issues stop with vastly different world views, notions of justice and of moral justice, of democracy, fairness, status of the sexes, kinship systems, religious dogmas, Erasmus and Descartes: grand concepts.
There are differences registered in human flesh.
In Full Bloom She Made All The World Sweat with Unnatural Flora, 2006, ink, acrylic, enamel painting on paper.
Loaned by the Centre Pompidou to this exhibition
Deep in the flesh.
Everything about a foreign body is foreign.
The spacing people allow themselves in an elevator, for instance.
The odour of a foreign body (a matter, of course, of cuisine).
The register of voices considered seductive or intolerable. Likewise body size.
Can I confess to the repugnance I felt when I first saw the veins climbing the underside of the arms of a white man? From his wrist upwards. Is he ill? I wondered.
The grotesque-beautiful in Rina Bannerjee’s work, especially in the figures in her drawings, is a representation of this incomprehension, ambiguity.
She is Uncertain, 2007.
Ink, acrylic, on Mylar. Private collection on loan to this exhibition
She is uncertain.
With breath taking consumption her commerce ate while she was being eaten
Glass vials, jute charpai (cot), shells, cotton thread, plastic skull, sari textile, 2008. Private collection on loan to this exhibition.
With Moon-shine and Money, she whistled her Siren’s plea. Her lizard’s tongue then only threw vines into sky of rupees, trick and tickles then you could see. 2007
Acrylic, ink, collage on paper. Private collection on loan to this exhibition.
All citizens of the subcontinent have also to deal with the half-life of the British colonization of India.
The British took their Indian mirrors with them when they left the subcontinent. When these broke, their shards scattered all around the world.
Subcontinentals looking at themselves in these splinters find strange versions of themselves which they sometimes are expected, unfairly, to explain.
Not South Asians alone but every culture ever colonized.
Ruth St. Denis in the Peacock Dance, 1919, oil on canvas. Robert Henri, 1865-1929, PAFA, Philadelphia
The Intellectual Explorer as a Underdeveloped Two Headed Man Pillaged and Parroted the Dreams of Natives. His Fruit was an Individual Identity. 2008
Ink, acrylic, enamel painting, on paper. Loaned to this exhibtion by the Centre Pompidou, Paris
The museum notes that tongues, intestines, digestive tracts stand for the consumption of commodities, cultures, identities as people circulate through the world.
To call Britain’s remnants a half-life is misleading because this half-life is the foundation of our whole globalized economic life today.
The artist acknowledges this in her work which incorporates the raw and produced materials from dozens of countries.
Three portraits on the wall are of Colonial women by Gilbert Stuart, 1755-1828, American
The promise of self rule, played on her mind’s paradise, paralysed her curiosity and then only had she the will to erect her sitting beauty from sleep. 2008
Mixed media. ? ownership.
The gap between the artist’s Indian civilization and her adopted Western one shows up in Western criticism of her.
One critic, Joyce Brodksy, says that this artist is milking Indian aesthetics, to feed Western desire for the foreign-beautiful-chimeric-dangerous-colourful-new.
Has anyone ever criticized a Western artist on these grounds?
Did anyone tell Paul Gaugin to stop with the Tahitian exotica?
Warhol with our Marilyn which he reproduced 1000 ways to heaven?
Jeff Kuhns, Rachel Whiteread to stop messing with the objects of our daily Western lives?
Classic example of what is permitted and not permitted by country of origin.
Winter’s Foul – Raw materials from sea andfromfoulandevenfrom someexotic mice was eaten by a world hungry for commerce mad these into flower, disguised could be savoured alongside whitened rice
Oyster shells, fishbone, thread, cowrie shells, fur, deity eyes, copper trim, ostrich egg, epoxy, American buffalo horns, steel, frabricated umbrella structure, steel stand, pigeon-feather fans, 2009
The artist, and all those of us finding our way between civilizations, enter liminal space.
That frontier, all frontiers; those cross-roads are liminal space.
Between worlds is liminal space: what was, was and what is to come is becoming and is not known.
One day in Ahmedabad, I came out in the early morning and found three women laying incense to burn in the center of crossroads.
To remove the danger inherent in travelling through crossroads. Liminal space is unstable.
More precisely, the individual in passage is not stable.
Peculiar was her manner, has an uncertain number of flaws….was she foreign. 2009
Ink, acrylic, on unbleached watercolour paper. ?ownership
The space is liminal because of the possibility of transformation of the person making a path through.
All sites of possible transformation are liminal.
Transformation is entailed when you give up pieces of yourself to move forward.
In order to survive somewhere where you were not born and whose mores are not embedded in your base brain.
The world as burnt fruit – When empires feuded for populations and plantations, buried in colonial and ancient currency, a Gharial appeared from an inky melon – hot with blossom sprang forth to swallow the world not yet whole as burnt fruit. 2009
Feathers, cowrie shells, resin, alligator skull, globe, glass, vials, lightbulbs, steel wire, gourds, Japanese mosquito nets. ? ownership.
For English-speakers looking at Rina Bannerjee’s art, her wordy story titles give insight into how hard and jarring this path can be.
Mysterious also. And sometimes funny.
Little Red Riding Hood
Rooster, feathers, steel, knitted mesh, wood, rhinestones, deity eyes, wooden doll, mink fur, cowrie shells, thread. 2010. Private collection on loan to this exhibition.
A fierce Red Riding Hood, the Museum suggests, ready for battle.
The artist is zig-zagging between her worlds in these long titles. Syntax and grammar slipping often.
Streams of word-images. A surfeit, a surplus of words.
The Canadian-American poet Jack Kerouac, 1922-1969, no mean traveller himself, was one who walked this road before her and wrote about it in Old Angel Midnight (1956-59).
He explains why in liminal space ordinary consciousness is suspended and the words begin to stream.
Her captivity was once someone’s treasure and even treasure but she blew and flew away took root which grew, we knew this was like no other feather, a third kind of bird which perched on vine intertwined was neither native nor her queen’s daughter, a peculiar other. 2011
Anglo-Indian pedestal of 1860, Victorian birdcage, shells, feathers, gourds, grapevine, coral, fractured Charlotte doll heads, steel knitted mesh with glass beads, Kenyan tourist sculptures, apple gourds, Loaned to this exhibition by the Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Mary McCall, c. 1746, oil on canvas. Robert Feke, c. 1707-1751, American. PAFA
Only one flower. No excess in Quaker Philadelphia!
“Old Angel Midnight is only the beginning of a lifelong work in multilingual sound, representing the haddalada-babra of babbling world tongues coming in thru my window at midnight no matter where I live or what I’m doing, in Mexico, Morocco,New York, India or Pakistan, in Spanish, French, Aztec, Gaelic, Keltic, Kurd or Dravidian, the sounds of people yakking and of myself yakking among, ending finally in great intuitions of the sounds of tongues throughout the entire universe in all directions in and out forever.
“And it is the only book I’ve ever written in which I allow myself the right to say anything I want, absolutely and positively anything, since that’s what you hear coming in that window… God in his Infinity wouldn’t have had a world otherwise — Amen.”
The song of a thousand flies and a sudden rage made her drop all her contents and stitch her veins to make them plain again, 2011
Acrylic, ink on paper. Loaned to this exhibition by a private collection
And there the poet is pointing up the attributes of this inter-cultural liminality:
Sapiens would not have survived without this kind of transformation because the species is always on the move.
Transformation is always in liminal space because individuals do not know what they are doing. If they did and if the process were conscious, people would go mad with fear.
The liminal space is also a cacophany.
This may drive some people mad and force others to withdraw over the boundary they crossed. In rare instances it kills people.
But for many millions more, such a space allows individuals to move forward in the maximum freedom of their semi-conscious minds. It protects the individual from landing too hard.
It allows them to do what Rina Banerjee is doing: go backwards and forwards tracing a way to re-self-definition.
On a path stepping now in one civilization, now in another, extracting, balancing, picking up from here and from there.
For every language is a treasury and every culture is a road map of a people’s investigation how not to perish.
How to flourish differently.
She drew a premature prick in a fluster of transgressions, abject by birth she new not what else to do with this untouchable reach, unknowable body as she was an ancient savage towed into his modern present. 2011
Female mannequin form , amber bottles, epoxy American buffalo horns, steel arm brace, Benarasi Indian wedding sari trim, Victorian replica doll head, Indian jewelry, glass magnifying dome, replica deer eyes, wooden elbow bangles from the Congo. Private collection on loan to this exhibition.
Flourish differently are the salient words.
Because today millions are on the move and that flourishing is different for every individual.
Beauty was not in the East – her figure was in part a repellant I and his aura was not so neat. The locus of a pleasure stolen from deceit, stubborn and excessive the oriental was transformed in part as objects of sexual bad habits. 2013
Acrylic, collage on watercolour paper. Private collection on loan to this exhibition
Rina Bannerjee’s text is:
“Flourish me different in wind and drift and breezes set sale always in motion and mindful adaptation, in not yet settled fertile selection, in open folds and ceaseless creases, in remote reaches this was signalled and snagged touched stopped with what nature teaches came to shed peel so these layers as evolution loosens makes us each time, every time this a tiny bit different.”
Ruth St. Denis in the Peacock Dance, 1919, oil on canvas. Robert Henri, 1865-1929, PAFA, Philadelphia
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’ coral 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 on loan to this exhibition.
Those red veins again.
So useful this work:
in image and in word, Rina Bannerjee relays the path she is taking to flourish differently.
Infinitely richer for the possible ways of being human
and of human being.
And not just human being. In her work – as above – she deals also with the health of all organic matter.
Learn of their discovery, their complex physiological construction and fierce competition they grew attached and grew abormally became lively with each other’s fondness for excitation. 2013
Acrylic on watercolour paper. I don’t know who owns this work.
Rina Bannerjee’s work can only be Amen for a species like ours who thinks nothing of killing each other at the drop of a hat because we are different one from the other.
But not in the DNA.
George Washington, Patriae Pater, 1824, oil on canvas. Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860, American. PAFA
Make me a summary of the world! She was his guide and had travelled on camel, rhino, elephant and kangaroo, dedicated to dried plants, glass houses, for medical study, vegetable sexuality, self-pollination, fertilization, her reach pierced the woods, country by country.
Wood rhino, Chinese umbrella, sea sponges, linen, beads, pewter, soldiers, grape vines, glass chandelier drops, acrylic horns, nylon and bead flowers. 2014. Courtesy of the artist.
Photo courtesy of PAFA
Viola from New Orleans – ah, an African woman was the 19th century’s rescue worker, a global business good raker, combed, tilled the land of Commerce, giving America a certain extra extra excess culture, to cultivate it, making home for aliens not registered, made business of the finer, finer, had occupations, darning thread not leisure with reason and with luster, in peek-a-boo racial disguises preoccupied in circulating commerce, entertaining white folks, pulling and punching holes in barriers, place that where was once barren, without them, white banks made of mustard and madefriendlyfolksfeelhome, welcomed and married immigrants from far noted how they also been starved, fled from servitude and colonial dangers, ships like dungeons, pushing coal in termite wholes, churning fire, but always learning, folding, washing, welcomed as aliens. She wandering, hosting, raising children connected to new mobilities and most unusual these movements in ‘Treme’, New Orleans was a incubated, enmeshed embedded in this silken cocoon when she land, she’s came to be a parachute mender, landed those black immigrant peddlers from Hoogali network of newcomers.
Murano glass horns, Indian rakes, seed beads, steel, yoruba African mask, oyster shells, cowrie shells, Charlotte dolls, polyester horse hir trim, Korean silks, Indian silks, vintage Kashmire shawls, French wire ferris wheel, Congolese elbow bangles, colonial mirror sconeces, Japanese seed glass beads, sequins, threads. 2017. PAFA, Philadelphia
There was a real woman, Viola Ida Lewis, who in 1906 married a South Asian immigrant, Joseph Abdin, from Bengal. Many Bengalis immigrated to the south of the United States to work in the steel and car factories. Bengali families – called ‘peddlers’ – ran import businesses, bringing silks and embroidered fabrics such as those in this sculpture.
Dodo Bird and her Extinction met Dutch sailors in the Indian Ocean while they were looking for fortune and existence both plain and simple into new world and paradises or experience death was one notion. 2014
Acrylic, ink, collage on watercolour paper. Loaned to this exhibition by the Ford Foundation.
Flourish me different in wind and breezes and drift set sale always in motion and mindful adaptation, in not yet settled fertile selection, in open folds and ceaseless creases, in remote reaches this was wrinkled and snagged touched stopped with what nature teaches came to shed peel so these layers as evolution loosens makes us each time, every time this a tiny bit different. 2014
Steel, textiles, beads, pearls, feathers, fans. Private collection on loan to this exhibition.
Ligaments wait to stretch in an identity that could double find home rubble find refuge in disguise, 2015
Silver leaf blue, ink, acrylic, on birch wood panel. Private collection on loan to this exhibition.
In transparent soil she spoke to welome her other more mouthy voice, sliced open tunnel, mountain and air, tugged, tumbled even tackled to rise lighter, higher, more quicker knocking who? 2015
Black ink, acrylic paint, crayon, gold and silver metallic paint, copper leaf, collage of marbled and other decorated paper, on paper. Loaned by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Women 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
Mixed media, PAFA, Philadelphia.
What women do now is make sculpture, like this artist, in whose native culture, as in so many others, sculpture is the preserve of men.
Tiffany Studios stained glass lancet windows of St. Cornelius and the angel, c. 1910
Excessive flower, hour by hour, banal and decorative, banished and vanished ofpower, 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 colour – 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
Mixed media, PAFA
Stained glass lancet windows of Violet Oakley, 1874-1961, American: Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1908-09. PAFA
Penelope, marble, 1891. Rinaldo Rinaldi, 1793-1873, Italian. PAFA.
With her basket of weaving materials with which she kept herself chaste against the return of her husband, Odysseus.
When sign of origin fade, fall out, if washed away, trickle into separations, precipitate when boiled or filtered to reveal all doubleness as wickedness. Vanishing act that migration, mixation like mothers who hid paternity who could name move me slowly reveal me only when my maker stands straight. 2017
Turtle replica in resin, vintage shell lampshades, steel armature, Polynesian mask, Pyrex filtration lab glassware, feathers, seed beads, pearls. Private collection on loan to this exhibition.
In breathless confinement she wooed an uncertain danger, lit a candle to angeress, a blessed wilderness, a tropical justice, she came to her enacted jungli joy, a letting drew droppings, seeds and leaked solitudes whispers, awoke twice like no other, not like him but like all the others joined a sprawling universe. 2018
Mixed media. Loaned by a private gallery to this exhibition.