Suggestive sculptures that move by New York-based artist Rina Banerjee

Rina Banerjee creates bold paintings and sculptures, such as Mangroves Of Aliens (above). -- PHOTO: OTA FINE ARTS
Rina Banerjee creates bold paintings and sculptures, such as Mangroves Of Aliens (above). -- PHOTO: OTA FINE ARTS
Rina Banerjee (above) creates bold paintings and sculptures, such as Mangroves Of Aliens. -- PHOTO: RINA BANERJEE

It is a rather unusual assemblage of sculptures at OTA Fine Arts in Gillman Barracks.

Bright, colourful, highly suggestive sensual forms made of found objects, ranging from glass bottles to lush Indian sarees to sea shells, reference the many journeys Kolkata-born, New York-based artist Rina Banerjee has made as a painter and a sculptor.

The petite, soft-spoken artist, who was in town for her show's opening during the packed Singapore Art Week last month, told Life! even the title of the show Migration's Breath is meant to ask questions such as "who we are, where we come from, how we are shaped by the journeys we make and how do we comprehend our world".

Banerjee knows a lot about those journeys.

Her richly textured art - which has been featured in several major shows such as the Whitney Biennial (2000) and is in key collections including that of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Devi Art Foundation in New Delhi - draws on her childhood memory and her experiences as an immigrant.

The 51-year-old artist, who is married to a scientist and has a 16-year-old daughter, trained as a scientist before doing her Masters of Fine Arts at the Yale University School of Art in 1995. There, she specialised in painting and print- making.

Besides the brilliant use of colour and material, what stands out in her first solo show here is the presentation of the sculptures.

In some ways, the playful, layered and deeply sexual works are reminiscent of Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama's installations.

Some have rather suggestive titles, such as She Drew A Premature Prick, and it is impossible to miss the echoes of sex organs in the colourful sculptures mounted on the walls.

She explains: "I am interested also in seeing what a sculpture can be. Is there a way of presenting it like a painting on the wall and then see it gently drift should the wind blow from an open window?"

For instance, depending on where you are standing and viewing her work Mangroves Of Aliens, you watch it take on many forms ranging from a flower in bloom to something more suggestive.

Her art, she adds, is also rooted in her childhood memory.

Among the foremost artists of the post-colonial Indian diaspora, Banerjee recalls visiting her grandfather's farm to see his various homeopathic treatments, as a child growing up in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

The visuals that she saw have stayed with her and, in many ways, informed her lush art.

"I remember the small room lined with vials of dark amber for homeopathic treatments and the single light bulb lighting it all up. There were hundreds of finger-size vials. The light used to make them appear alive and I often felt like they were watching me. Powders, oils, leaves strung on string - these are things you never forget, never mind how much you travel."

Her use of colour too is rooted in India.

She is unafraid to reach out for the pop of bright pink, orange, green and yellow. The materials for her art are sourced from everywhere.

Lush saree fabrics are mixed with things she finds in antique shops, flea markets and other materials she finds online.

Several of these materials and her uninhibited use of colour can be seen in the four sculptures and six works on paper priced between US$12,500 (S$16,900) and US$38,000.

She says living in polyglot New York has had a big impact on her art-making. The varied cultures and sound of so many languages add to the energy and vigour of the place.

She feels these "different sounds, colours as well as different bodies of knowledge feed off one another. I create my art by staying open to all these experiences".

She says she also got to experience this energy in Singapore.

She was at OTA gallery on Jan 23 during Gillman Barracks' Art After Dark event, when the three-year-old contemporary arts hub stayed open till late against the backdrop of an outdoor party.

The response was unprecedented; the cluster was packed with thousands of people who queued to enter galleries even up till 11pm, a scene which would have been more common in Paris and London.

It got so crowded during her exhibition that Banerjee had to take short breathers in the gallery's office space.

Responding to the crowds showing up to see the art, she said: "We do not see energy like this even in New York. It is quite something."

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