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This year, New Delhi’s Nature Morte will participate for the first time in Frieze London. The gallery will show the work of the late Mrinalini Mukherjee within a new themed section curated by Cosmin Costinas, executive director and curator of Para Site in Hong Kong. Entitled “Woven,” it brings together solo presentations by eight international artists who employ textiles, weaving, and tapestry.
Whitewaller caught up with Nature Morte co-director Peter Nagy to learn more about the work of Mukherjee.
WHITEWALLER: Can you tell us about the choice to present Mrinalini Mukherjee in the curated themed section, “Woven”?
PETER NAGY: With this curated section in mind, Nature Morte was invited to exhibit the work of Mrinalini Mukherjee, who is known for her early experimental work in fiber. As her fiber works are now extremely rare and mostly in the collections of museums, we are augmenting one fiber work with three bronze works she made toward the end of her career.
WW: Can you tell us about the 1996 work in fiber that will be on view, Kusum?
PN: The featured work of our booth, Kusum, is a fiber work made of hemp from 1996, borrowed from a private collection in New Delhi. Mukherjee’s unique attraction to fiber began during her years in art school in Baroda. Early on, she began with wall hangings that were reminiscent of her study of mural design and inspired by local craftspeople who used hemp to create functional household objects. Later, the pieces evolved off of the wall to exist independently and in the round, first hanging from the ceiling and later standing on their own by using internal armatures.
Mukherjee situated her woven forms as sculpture that pushed the capabilities of what is possible with the material, inventing entirely new techniques to handle it. Kusum, meaning “flower-like,” was of the last group of fiber works that Mukherjee made. By the end of the 1990s, Mukherjee stopped working with fiber as she was hindered by the physical demands and access to the material, when she movedon to working with ceramics, and then bronze.
WW: Can you tell us about the three bronzes made in 2013 that will be shown?
PN: In the early 2000s, Mukherjee began to work with bronze. Coming after her experiments with fiber and ceramics, Mukherjee approached bronze as a malleable material, casting both wax elements that she created and found elements from nature, combining them into welded assemblages. Her bronzes appear to be kinetic, molten, and primordial and are all unique works, having been made using the lost-wax process, not with molds. What is most amazing is that the artist was able to achieve a very similar language in three radically different materials: fiber, ceramic, and bronze.
WW: What were her major sources of inspiration?
PN: Her inspirations throughout her career and all her works in three mediums remained the same: first, nature itself, especially floral and botanical forms, and second, sacred figurative sculpture as it is found within spaces of worship. She wanted her sculptures to seem as if they had grown spontaneously from the floor of the jungle, and her choice of colors for the fiber and ceramic works also play into this.
Her second source of inspiration was from the experience of entering temples and churches to encounter sculptures of deities, which are usually surrounded with a plethora of other elements to complicate their reception, or are seen in very low light, which distorts their images for the viewer. Widely traveled, she did not want her works to be pigeonholed as Hindu gods, because she was Indian, but, rather, saw them as polymorphous ciphers of spirituality, as much animist spirits as anything else. She often said that visiting the Buddhist stupa at Borobudur in Java was one of her most thrilling inspirations, both for her sculptures themselves but also how she wished for them to be displayed.