Mrinalini Mukherjee: Invocations in Hemp, Bronze and Ceramics

 

Mrinalini Mukherjee, Indian, 1949-2015.  Sculptor.  

 

 

Sarathy Korwar, Indian, born USA, raised in India,  working in London. Percussionist, composer, musicologist.

 

 

Indefinite Leave to Remain from Day to Day, 2016, Sarathy Korwar

 

The musician works with the Indian diaspora.

His first album (Day to Day, 2016) incorporated the music of the Siddi (populations of East African origin old of 1400 years, in India) with jazz and electronics.

His second album (More Arriving) has just been released. 

 

Unlike with the work graphic artists of Indian ormost other ethnicity, including Mrinalini Mukjerjee and Rina Bannerjee, nobody seems to be suggesting that there is anything venal or inauthentic about the fusion or novel interpretation of Indian (or any other) music.

 

 

The sculptures of Mrinalini Mukjerjee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until September 28, 2019

 

 

 

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Squirrel, 1972, hemp, jute cotton, sisal, bamboo, and carpet brushes, and detail.  Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019.

The artist’s earliest work are wall hangings exploring various plant and animal forms.

 

 

 

After an art education in India, the artist decided to work with her hands using knotted, dyed rope. She was not part of the fiber art movement which began to develop in the West in the 1960’s. She worked alone and always in India. 

 

She began with wall-hangings like the one above.

 

By the early 1980’s she was hanging  her creations from the ceiling.

And later, standing them on the floor.

 

 

 

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(Pari) Nymph, 1986, fiber, and details.  Kiran Nadar Museum, New Delhi on loan to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2019

 

 

She used chemical dyes in order to achieve the shades she wanted, and a form of  Indian hemp (‘san’ or ‘sani’). 

She moved to ceramics and bronze (lost wax method) in the second part of her creative life.

 

 

 

 

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Earth Bloom, 1996, ceramic, and detail.  On loan fro DAG, New Delhi to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

 

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Apsara (Celestial Nymph), 1985, fiber.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

The challenge of working with a textile of this kind is, of course, to elicit form from its hard sinuousness.

To shape its stiff-backed structure into disciplined and recognizable shapes. 

 

 

 

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The artist did not use a loom, choosing instead makeshift frames. 

And what the museum calls ‘armatures’:

an interesting word because knotting is a time-consuming and physically strenuous activity in which you can imagine the artist’s struggle to coax the cord into the shapes of her intention.

 

 

Knotting produced only three or four creations each year.

 

 

 

 

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Night Bloom, 1999-2000, ceramic. Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

The artist was lauded in her lifetime for making art of a material up to then associated only with craft and with industrial and commercial life.

 

 

 

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Van Raja I (King of the Forest), 1981, and detail.  Roopankar Museum of Fine Arts, Bharat Bavan, Bhopal on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2019

 

 

Despite the names (almost all Sanskrit) she gave to each of her works, the artist distanced her work from Hinduism.

 

She was not a practising Hindu and denied that her work was grounded in Hindu mythology.

 

 

 

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On the left, Pakshi (Bird), 1985, fiber, and details.  Museum of Art and Photography, Bangalore on loan to Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

On the right, Rudra (Deity of Terror), 1982, fiber.  National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

She had a lively appreciation of the natural world not only from direct experience but also from the teachings of her father, Benode Behari Mukherjee, who himself had been exposed to the ecological philosophy originated by Rabindranath Tagore.

 

 

 

 

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Woman on Peacock, 1991, fiber, and detail.  Foundation of Contemporary Art, Reunion Island on loan to Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

Another source of her work was the representation of divinities, nymphs and forest forms at temples and roadside shrines.

 

 

 

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Palmscape II, 2013, bronze. Kiran Nader Museum of Art, New Delhi on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

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Vrikish-Nata (Arboreal Enactment), 1991-92, fiber. Kiran Nadar Museum of Art loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

 

By the late 1990s, after making a series of works which were sexual, her work in fiber diminished.

 

 

 

 

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On the left Basanti (She of Spring), 1984, fiber.  National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

On the right Yakshi (Female Forest Deity), 1984, fiber. MOMA, NY on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

 

The fiber she used was being mixed with synthetic material.  In addition a ban was imposed on the dyes she used; and working with fiber became prohibitively difficult for her physically.

 

 

 

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Van Raja II (King of the Forest), 1991-94, and details.   Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

Her textile work  was criticized, especially in India for its supposed grounding in Indian mythology to appeal, it was said, to foreigners into the strange, exotic and sensual.

 

Displayed in England in the 1990s, some criticism of her work grounded it in Hindu spirituality and not much else. 

 

 

 

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Lotus Pond, 1995, stoneware.  Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

The artist denied this and repeatedly explained that she was not a practising Hindu.  Her “anthropomorphic deities” she said “have no relationship to gods and goddesses….but are parallel invocations in the realm of art.”

 

 

 

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Adi Pushp II (Primal Flower), 1998-99, fiber, and detail.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2019

 

 

 

 

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Night Bloom IV, 1999-2000, ceramic, and detail.  Galerie Mirchandani+Stenruecke on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

She held that her idea “of the sacred is not rooted in any specific culture……..rather it is the metamorphosed expression of varied sensory perceptions.”

 

 

 

 

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Vanshri (Woman and Teeth), 1994, and detail, fiber. Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

One imagines that all artists draw upon diverse sources for creativity. 

 

Straitjackets:  why artists outside the ‘West’ are to distance themselves from sources in their own culture and history to make ‘valid’ art; 

 

or why they should use their own culture  in ways clearly recognizable to Western audiences;

 

why they are thought not to be as autonomous as any artist, any human being

 

are Euro-American-centric ways of straight jacketing.

 

Straight jackets which take away from the intent of the artist’s expansive creativity; and from the possibility of our expansive, imaginative appreciation.

 

 

 

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Untitled, 2002, ceramic, and detail.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019

 

 

 

Mrinalini Mukherjee moved to working with ceramics and bronze in part to get away from straitjackets.

 

 

 

 

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Aranyani (Goddess of the Forests, 1996, and detail, fiber.  Intended gift of the artist’s estate.

 

 

 

Heartfelt, striving, finger-hand-body-mind challenging and intricate work;  large creations almost as encompassing as houses and with the protective aura of such;

not shying away from the representation of sexuality;

extending the traditions in which she was raised into unaccustomed materials and cultural expressions which are novel and secular

 

 

 

 

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Palmscape IX, 2015, bronze.  Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2019

 

 

 

A life effort which makes up the legacy of a vibrant homage by Mrinalini Mukherjee

 

to the sanctum sanctorum which many of us recognise and in which we live and  have our being in company with the beauties, pleasures, mysteries, joys, risks, dangers, and protections  which the artist’s creations invoke. 

 

 

 

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Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the site of Hyperallergic.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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