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Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Art Redefined Contemporary Indian Art

Abhishek Kumar

February 15, ON THIS DAY

“My mythology is de-conventionalised and personal, as indeed are my methods and materials. […] My idea of the sacred is not rooted in any specific culture. To me it is a feeling that I may get in a church, mosque, temple, or forest. […] My inspiration and visual stimuli come from all over the world, from museum objects and artifacts and more immediately from my environment.”

Mrinalini Mukherjee

Mrinalini Mukherjee

Mrinalini Mukherjee was an Indian artist known for her sculptural works in fiber and bronze. Her works often explored themes related to nature, mythology, and the human form, and she is considered a pioneer in the use of fiber as a medium in contemporary Indian art. Mukherjee’s works have been exhibited in India and internationally, and she has been posthumously recognized as one of the most important artists of her generation.

Mukherjee was born in Mumbai, India in 1949, and grew up in a family of artists. Her father was the famous artist Benode Behari Mukherjee, and her mother was the artist and designer Leela Mukherjee. Mukherjee studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in painting. However, she is best known for her sculptural works, which she began creating in the 1980s.

Mrinalini Mukherjee, Rudra (Deity of Terror) (1982) | Photo: Ben Davis.

Mukherjee’s sculptures are often large-scale and organic in form, resembling plants, animals, or human body parts. She was particularly interested in the textures and patterns of natural materials, and she experimented with techniques such as knotting, weaving, and dyeing to create complex and intricate works. In addition to fiber, Mukherjee also worked in bronze and other metals, creating sculptures that combined traditional Indian sculptural techniques with modern forms and materials.

Mrinalini Mukherjee’s art has been instrumental in redefining contemporary Indian art, particularly in terms of the use of fiber and textile materials. Mukherjee was one of the first artists in India to experiment with fiber as a medium for sculpture, and her works challenged traditional notions of what art could be and how it could be made. Her bold and innovative sculptures combined traditional Indian techniques with modern forms and materials, and pushed the boundaries of what was possible in terms of scale, complexity, and expressiveness.

Mukherjee’s work has inspired many younger artists in India to explore fiber and textile materials in their own practice, and has contributed to a broader revaluation of traditional craft techniques in contemporary art. Her sculptures are admired for their beauty, craftsmanship, and originality, and are recognized as important examples of India’s rich artistic heritage and its ongoing evolution.

Nag Devta by Mrinalini Mukherjee.

Mukherjee’s sculptures are notable for their hybridity, combining traditional and modern techniques, forms, and materials. She drew on a range of sources for inspiration, including Indian mythology, nature, and folk art, as well as Western art movements such as Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. Mukherjee’s use of fiber and textile materials was significant in the context of contemporary Indian art, which had traditionally been dominated by painting and sculpture in more conventional materials such as wood, metal, and stone. By elevating fiber and textile to the level of sculpture, Mukherjee challenged the hierarchy of art materials and expanded the possibilities of what art could be.

Mukherjee’s sculptures are also notable for their scale and monumentality. Many of her works are large enough to fill an entire room or outdoor space, and have a powerful physical presence that invites viewers to engage with them on a visceral level. Mukherjee’s work has had a significant impact on younger generations of artists in India, who have been inspired by her use of fiber and textile materials, as well as her exploration of themes related to nature, mythology, and the human form. Many contemporary Indian artists today continue to draw on Mukherjee’s legacy in their own practice, and her work continues to be exhibited and celebrated in India and internationally.

Phenomenal Nature by Mrinalini Mukherjee

In addition to her artistic practice, Mukherjee was also a teacher and mentor to many young artists in India. She taught at several institutions, including the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, and was known for her generous and collaborative spirit. Mukherjee’s work has been the subject of several publications, including a monograph titled “Phenomenal Nature” and a retrospective catalog titled “Metaphor and Ardour”. These publications provide insight into Mukherjee’s creative process, influences, and legacy.

Mukherjee passed away in 2015 on 15th February at the age of 66, but her legacy continues to inspire and influence generations of Indian artists. Her work has been the subject of several retrospectives and exhibitions since her death, and her sculptures continue to be admired for their beauty, craftsmanship, and originality. Mukherjee’s sculptures are highly sought after by collectors and museums, and are held in many prestigious collections around the world. Her work has been instrumental in expanding the boundaries of Indian art and elevating the status of fiber and textile-based art in contemporary art discourse.

Left to right: Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Basanti (She of Spring) (1984), Yakshi (Female Forest deity) (1984), Pakshi (Bird) (1985), Rudra (Deity of Terror) (1982), and Devi (Goddess) (1982) | Image: Ben Davis.