Magazine article Artforum International

Sarnath Banerjee

Magazine article Artforum International

Sarnath Banerjee

Article excerpt

CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS

Best known for his graphic novels Corridor (2004), The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers (2007), and The Harappa Files (2011), Berlin-based Indian artist Sarnath Banerjee expanded the presentation of his cultural and historical research with "History is Written by Garment Exporters," a collection of artworks consisting of drawings, prints, films, collages, sketchbooks, and appropriated items such as books and sneakers. Influenced by the oral cultures of third-world cities, imbued with a deep sense of the local, and interweaving the imaginary and the real, Banerjee holds a magnifying glass up to the teeming life of the streets, revealing the seemingly bizarre details that constitute what he terms the "inner workings" or "stuffing" of chaotic urban existence.

The Story of Gama, 2011, consists of three vitrines filled with artifacts--books, notes, photographs, sketchbooks--belonging to an invented character, Professor N. K. Majumdar, whose research and documentation center around the Great Gama, a (real) Indian wrestler. Majumdar's documents concern such topics as the dietary habits of Indian and Pakistani wrestlers or the cultural history of cholesterol in the Indian subcontinent. There are notes on his research ranging from Gama's failed business ventures in Pakistan immediately after the partition of India, to comical charts of the types of knots tied on a wrestler's langot (loincloth) and a wide selection of brightly patterned fabrics for this apparel.

Other works, such as Banerjee's animated films, mix myth with history. Sophistication Is Fragile, 2009, is a cautionary tale set in the Middle Ages, when the Moors were building their armies; desiring to make the world safe and protect culture, they found instead that the main casualty of militarization was knowledge. Calcutta is the setting for 1943, 2007, a fable about a false sense of plenty, in this case demonstrated by a meditation on rice and the surprising value of the starchy water resulting from its production. …

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