Encountering Love, Identity and Place-Making with Artist Rina Banerjee
AMH Professor Romita Ray was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant to support acclaimed artist Rina Banerjee’s exhibition and residency at Syracuse University.
While the world comes to terms with the profound impact of a global pandemic, it simultaneously continues to grapple with race, migration and climate change. Romita Ray, associate professor in the Department of Art and Music Histories (AMH), says one of the ways people can engage in important conversations about these pressing issues is through the power of art.
This semester, Ray opens Take Me to the Palace of Love at the Syracuse University Art Museum, an exhibition she has curated of acclaimed artist Rina Banerjee’s work, in consultation with Banerjee and Melissa Yuen, the museum’s interim chief curator. She will also host Banerjee as the Syracuse University Humanities Center’s Jeannette K. Watson Distinguished Professor in the Humanities in collaboration with students, faculty, curators, and staff across the university. Born in Kolkata, India, and having lived briefly in Great Britain before growing up in the United States, Banerjee has lived with the challenges of ethnicity, race and migration. Not surprisingly, her work examines how diasporas and journeys can affect one’s sense of place and identity.
Banerjee’s colorful sculptures feature a wide range of globally sourced materials, textiles, colonial/historical and domestic objects. Her previous experience as a polymer research chemist informs her unique style, as she received a degree in polymer engineering from Case Western University and worked in that field for several years before receiving an M.F.A. from Yale University. She was recently appointed the inaugural Post-Colonial critic at the Yale School of Art. Banerjee’s works have been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and she has held a prestigious artist’s residency at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Banerjee’s exhibition and upcoming residency at Syracuse University are supported by the Humanities Center, the Syracuse University Art Museum, the CNY Humanities Corridor, over 30 university departments and units, and Todd Rubin ’04, President of The Republic of Tea, who is providing tea for Banerjee’s different residency activities. In addition, Ray was recently awarded a Grants for Arts Projects award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in support of Take Me to the Palace of Love and Banerjee’s public art-making project which will take place in the city of Syracuse on February 25. Notably, this is the first NEA grant for an exhibition at the SU Art Museum.
NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson says, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support arts projects in communities nationwide. Projects such as this one at Syracuse University strengthen arts and cultural ecosystems, provide equitable opportunities for arts participation and practice, and contribute to the health of our communities and our economy.”
Take Me to the Palace of Love (January 19 – May 14, 2023)
Banerjee’s exhibition includes one of her noted installations, a re-imagined Taj Mahal made out of pink plastic wrap. Officially titled Take Me, Take Me, Take Me…To the Palace of Love, this artwork is based on the famous Mughal monument in India, which also inspired the exhibition’s title.
Time lapse video of the installation of Take Me, Take Me, Take Me…To the Palace of Love.
“The ‘pink Taj,’ as it is affectionately known, is testament to Banerjee’s background as an artist and a polymer scientist,” says Romita Ray. “It also evokes her birthplace, India, while reminding us of the consumerist culture of America in which she grew up—a culture reliant on the global economies of trade and exchange.”
Ray notes that the sculpture is a portable object which, like the artist herself, is diasporic.
“It has traveled from museum to museum, across oceans, not unlike the very image of the Taj which emerged a cherished souvenir from the nineteenth century onwards,” says Ray.
The installation is accompanied by examples of early twentieth-century images of the Taj and Mughal architecture from the SU Art Museum and Bird Library, as well as from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (Cornell University). A chair designed by American furniture designer, Lockwood de Forest, on loan from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, greets visitors to the exhibition. A key figure in the Aesthetic Movement, de Forest was influenced by Mughal architecture and design.
Two additional critically acclaimed art installations by Banerjee in the exhibition alongside African, American, and Indian art from the museum’s collections include Viola, from New Orleans (2017), a multi-media work that explores interracial marriage in America, and A World Lost (2013), another multi-media installation that critiques climate change.
“I hope exhibition visitors will be struck by Banerjee’s intricate constructions that remind us that beauty can reside in the most mundane objects and materials,” says Ray. “Most of all, I hope we can find our own stories to connect with her art installations and drawings, which are powerful, spectacular and thought-provoking.”
Jeannette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professorship in the Humanities
The Syracuse University community will have the unique opportunity to interact with and work alongside Banerjee during her residency as the Humanities Center’s 2023 Jeannette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities from February 20 to March 3. Banerjee will engage with faculty, students and members of the Syracuse and Central New York communities during a two-week series of events.
Vivian May, director of the Humanities Center and the CNY Humanities Corridor, is delighted to welcome Banerjee to campus and invites everyone to engage with the residency’s layered series of events. May notes, “Professor Ray’s interdisciplinary vision, combined with the scope of Rina Banerjee’s oeuvre, has resulted in an exciting, robust array of opportunities to interact with Banerjee’s ideas and work, from large-scale lectures to intimate dialogues.”
Banerjee’s residency has been designed as a series of interactive conversations led by SU faculty and students from African American Studies, Architecture, English, Geography, Law, South Asian Studies, and Women in Science and Engineering. Banerjee’s residency also involves curators from the Special Collections Research Center, which houses a unique collection of plastics as well as a growing archive of artists of color.
Banerjee’s residency begins with a virtual talk titled Being Rina Banerjee on February 20 at 5:30 p.m. Graduate students Ankush Arora (AMH) and Natalie Rieth (Newhouse) will introduce Banerjee as the 2023 Watson Professor in a Zoom conversation moderated by Samuel Johnson, assistant professor of art history (AMH). Arora has curated a wall of Mithila paintings from India, in response to Banerjee’s drawings displayed in the exhibition. Next, Banerjee will give a public lecture on February 23, which will be followed by a reception at the museum. Her residency will conclude on March 4 with a public (in-person) dialogue with internationally acclaimed scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. Spivak’s event is supported by an award from the CNY Humanities Corridor to the Community-Engaged Public Humanities working group (HF3), whose work focuses on public-facing humanities research, teaching and collaboration.
With support from the NEA grant, the CNY Humanities Corridor and an Engaged Humanities Network mini-grant, Take Me to the Palace of Love will be extended into the city of Syracuse, allowing new American and underrepresented communities to document their own stories about identity and place—individually and collectively— with Banerjee. The program, titled “Love in Syracuse: Making Art Together,” is co-organized by Brice Nordquist, Dean’s Professor of Community Engagement in A&S. Narratio Fellows, students, faculty and community members will be invited to collaborate on a public art installation with Banerjee.
“As a resettlement city with several new and older generations of immigrants and asylum-seekers, Syracuse is uniquely positioned to serve as a source of everyday stories of resourcefulness and resilience,” says Nordquist, who is also co-founder of the Narratio Fellowship.
Rooted in cultural memory and storytelling, Nordquist notes that the public art-making project will foster a shared understanding of the diverse communities that make up the city of Syracuse. This event is February 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Community Room at Salt City Market. Four current Syracuse University students and Narratio Fellowship alumni will also compose poetry and create a film in response to Banerjee’s art installations and public art-making project. The poetry and film will be revealed March 30 during an event titled Repair, Refuge and Resilience through Art organized by Nordquist and Srivi Ramasubramanian (Newhouse) at the Nancy Cantor Warehouse, 350 W. Fayette St., Syracuse.
Post-residency, the exhibition’s events will end with a chant performance by Museum Studies graduate student Amarachi Attamah. An online catalogue featuring essays and community responses to Banerjee’s art installations and the public art-making project, will also be published following the exhibition.
Explore the full list of residency events below:
Being Rina Banerjee (Feb. 20) - Graduate students Ankush Arora and Natalie Rieth introduce the campus community to Rina Banerjee—in conversation moderated by AMH Professor Samuel Johnson.
Matters Out of Place (Feb. 21) - Maxwell Professor Timur Hammond (Geography) and School of Architecture Professor Lawrence Chua join Banerjee to discuss materiality, time, architecture and geography in Banerjee’s Take Me to the Palace of Love and A World Lost, on view at the SU Art Museum.
Tell Me Who You Love? Race and Kinship (Feb. 22) - Joan Bryant (African American Studies) and Romita Ray talk with Banerjee about inter-racial marriage, diaspora, and identity in Banerjee’s Viola, from New Orleans and objects from the museum’s collection.
Navigations (Feb. 23) - Sascha Scott (AMH) and Nicolette Dobrowolski (Special Collections Research Center) moderate a ‘box lunch’ conversation with Banerjee on navigating the world of art as a diasporic artist and creating archives of artists of color.
Black Noodles, Replenishing / Reaping the Earth (Feb. 23) - Banerjee talks about how her art navigates diaspora, displacement, and science.
Love in Syracuse: Making Art Together (Feb. 25) - The Syracuse University and Central New York communities are invited to join Banerjee to collaborate on a public art installation.
Knowing through Looking (March 1) - Focusing on Banerjee's exhibition, Art History graduate student Ankush Arora talks with Banerjee about Mithila paintings from the museum’s collections and Banerjee’s drawings on display.
Plastics! (March 1) - Banerjee collaborates with SCRC curator Courtney Hicks and museum curators Melissa Yuen and Kate Holohan on a workshop for students and campus community members.
A World Lost? Climate Change, Art, and Law (March 2) David M. Driesen, University Professor (School of Law) and Mike Goode, William P. Tolley Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities (English) engage Banerjee in critical conversation about climate change, art and law.
In Conversation with Gayatri Spivak (March 3) - Banerjee welcomes Gayatri Spivak, University Professor at Columbia University, for shared conversation about reason and imagination, and sign and trace.
Closing Reception (March 3) Following the conversation with Spivak (3 -4:30 p.m.), all are invited to share feedback and express gratitude for Banerjee’s campus visit.
Collaborators who contributed to Banerjee’s exhibition and residency include: Brice Nordquist, Dean’s Professor of Community Engagement (A&S); former SU Art Museum director Vanja Malloy; Vivian May, Director, and Diane Drake, Assistant Director, SU Humanities Center; Sarah Workman, Proposal Development; Emily Dittman, Melissa Yuen, Kate Holohan, Dylan P. Otts, Jennifer Badua, Victoria Gray, and Abby Campanaro, SU Art Museum; Pastor Gail Riina, Hendricks Chapel; Danielle Taana Smith, Director, Renée Crown University Honors Program; Joan Bryant (A&S); Sascha Scott (A&S); Lawrence Chua (Architecture); Timur Hammond (Maxwell); David Driesen (Law); Mike Goode (A&S); Shobha Bhatia (Engineering); Nicolette Dobrowolski and Courtney Hicks (Bird Library); Mark Cass, Northside Learning Center; Susan Wadley, Professor Emeritus, Anthropology; and students Ankush Arora (AMH), Natalie Rieth (Newhouse), Samaya Nasr (Museum Studies) and Julia Neufeld (AMH).
Romita Ray Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in History of Architecture