The show furthers Banerjee’s investigations into cultural identity and exchange, and the meanings that emerge from combinations of disparate materials and ideas. With “Tropical Urban,” she homes in on the city as a place of assembly, diversity, opportunity, and action—and she injects the scenes with narratives from the Bible, Mayan fables, and European fairytales. In doing so, she taps into universal issues like equality and race. The results are roiling intersections of people (mostly female), animals, and their surroundings; ultimately they’re her own brand of cityscapes, where the expected architectures are excluded. The show’s setting, New York, is also the artist’s home—and given this, one wonders if the region’s melting-pot nature is the inspiration behind the mythical, riotous scenes at hand. We caught up with the artist recently to find out, and to learn about the process, motivation, and inspiration that goes into Banerjee’s poetic and perplexing art.
Artsy: What led you to live in New York? How has living here affected your art?
Rina Banerjee: My family arrived in New York City in 1970, when I was seven years of age. I think an important question you allude to is what conditions or circumstances make people leave a country that they themselves have claimed for 2,000 years. War and colonization bring that change. In the 1970s, there was a wave of migration from India of the educated, middle class, which was later coined the “brain drain.”
This could be recounted, from my mother’s recollection, as a time of uncertainty for a generation who did not remember the British. This generation was ready to be in the world and away from India’s rough transformation, a struggle to heal itself and become modern. My mother is from Bangladesh and she saw her own life and education vanish due to the Bangladesh War. She professed that she wanted to marry a man who would allow her to leave India. Gross inequality led my family to leave India for the United States.