Perspectives: Rina Banerjee
Born in India and based in New York City, artist Rina Banerjee (b. 1963) draws on her background as a scientist and her experience as an immigrant. Her richly textured works complicate the role of objects as representations of cultures and invite viewers to share her fascination in materials. By juxtaposing organic and plastic objects—such as combining ornate textiles and animal forms with tourist souvenirs—she concocts fairytale worlds that are both enticing and subtly menacing. Visitors are invited to view the artist at work July 9–July 12, in advance of the opening.
Touching on themes of migration and transformation, the installation’s lengthy title conveys the sense of a long journey: A World Lost: after the original island, single land mass fractured, after populations migrated, after pollution revealed itself and as cultural locations once separated merged, after the splitting of Adam and Eve, Shiva and Shakti, of race black and white, of culture East and West, after animals diminished, after the seas’ corals did exterminate, after this and at last imagine all water evaporated…this after Columbus found it we lost it imagine this.
Xu Bing: Monkeys Grasping for the Moon
Monkeys Grasping for the Moon is a suspended sculpture designed specifically for the Sackler Gallery by Chinese artist Xu Bing (born 1955), as part of an October 2001 exhibition of his work titled Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing. The popular temporary display was re-created to permanently remain at the Sackler, with craftspeople from the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibits Central working with Xu and Sackler staff to engineer and fabricate the complex artwork. Composed of twenty-one laminated wood pieces, each of which forms the word “monkey” in one of a dozen languages, the linked vertebrates flow from the sky-lit atrium through the Gallery’s stairwell down to the reflecting pool on the bottom level. A panel on every floor of the museum guides visitors through the represented languages, which include Indonesian, Urdu, Hebrew, and Braille. The work is based on a Chinese folktale in which a group of monkeys attempt to capture the moon. Linking arms and tails, they form a chain reaching down from the branch of a tree to the moon, only to discover that it is a shimmering reflection on the surface of a pool lying beneath them.
Xu Bing’s monumental sculpture is presented by the family of Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Chiang Soong Mayling, 1898–2003) in commemoration of her historic visits to the Joint Session of Congress in 1943 and a memorable return to the U.S. Capitol in 1995.