Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Maddie Klett reviews Rina Banerjee: Human Likeness at Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco.
Indian artist Rina Banerjee titles her bold paintings and intricate sculptures in a disjointed, poetic prose ranging between ten and sixty words each. Deliberately inconvenient, they are the artist’s critique of “Americanized” English, which privileges brevity. As a result, when writing about the work, one can only include the first eight words of Jack Fruit Johnny she was a diasporic Devi…, (2015), in lieu of its original forty-five word text.
In her solo show at Hosfelt Gallery, Human Likeness, Banerjee crafts eccentric constellations of materials in her ornate assemblages—much like her elaborate titles. Brightly colored lace, eyelet fabric, and feathers wrap around animal horns, glass bottles, and bones in the seven sculptures. Despite their initial celebratory and playful appearance, the sculptures’ intent is subtler. Born in Kolkata, reared in the UK and based in New York City, Banerjee lives the migratory reality of many Indians—the largest global diaspora. Her work reflects this fractured existence, and the nostalgia and desire for home that exists in many migrants’ minds.
The objects she compiles in her sculptures suggest these nostalgic, transient, and even historic associations. Sex-bait, in likeness to fish bait… (2017) seems to recount a tale: a hoard of trinkets (or treasures) accumulated on a wall ornament—all of which could have come from a former British governor general’s home. Two small cobalt lightbulbs and an animal horn, nestled among pieces of jewelry (in a phallic arrangement), adorn a steel armature. The work fosters stories of opulence and conquest, as Banerjee’s assemblage reclaims and repurposes colonialism’s derelict remains.
The artist’s works on paper—colorful acrylic washes, featuring delicate inky lines—most often depict women. In Heavens no place for girls… (2016), a young woman’s body, split vertically in three, reflects the artist’s sculptural process of fragmenting and conjoining forms. This fracturing offers insight into the deeper significance of her three-dimensional accumulations.
Banerjee’s enthusiasm for combining objects echoes contemporary Indian culture, exposing the diverse experiences that can’t fall into the fixed means of identity (language, history, nationality). The peculiar complexity of her works’ titles challenge the authority and privilege of those people who determine what is correct, precise English, highlighting the non-native or immigrant speaker’s need to assimilate and reject his or her culturally transient experience. In relation to their titles, Banerjee’s works contrast with the formal purity of high minimalism, still so dominant in the modern art-historical canon. Thus, one walks away from the show with notions of the darker side of neocolonial globalization, a failed modernism guised in Banerjee’s vivid parade of fantastical, pieced-together artworks.
Rina Banerjee: Human Likeness will be on view through March 4, 2017.
Maddie Klett is a writer and independent curator. She is a student in the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA.