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Sarnath Banerjee

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born1972, Kolkata, India
Lives and works in New Delhi

Filmmaker, artist and graphic novelist, Sarnath Banerjee has made his mark in the art world with his semi-autobiographical graphic novels. His works are a humorous mix of history and mythology meshed together with urban insights into the culture and politics of this generation. Especially after his work ‘Gallery of Losers’ was showcased in the 2012 Olympics, Banerjee has received wide critical acclaim from artists and enthusiasts alike.

Education

Masters in Image and Communication, Goldsmiths College, University of London

 

BSc. (Hons.) Biochemistry, University of Delhi

 

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Sarnath Banerjee

His narratives thread together hidden revelations and unpredicatble circumstances

His colouring expresses the mood of his characters almost perfectly. Sometimes in black and white, sometimes in cool, solid colors, each piece has great depth and clarity. In his two Untitled works, shown at the exhibition 'Size Matters...Or Does It?' (2010), he offers different viewpoints of the same scene, where a man stands at the window of his library. The menacing look on his face suggests evil intentions or a secret mission. The story is that of Jagadish Chandra Bose, who lost out on a Nobel Prize because bureaucratic delays prevented his discovery of the wireless receiver from becoming international news in time.

Banerjee offers a comical, yet abject scenario of Bose's small revenge, which he takes out on a few small ants. Bose is looking,Banerjee says, "at two fornicating ants, wondering whether to cremate the pair with his magnifying glass or let his good upbringing come in the way".

Sarnath Banerjee, Untitled (Set of 2), 2010, ink and watercolor on Paper, 13.5" x 20"

Without sacrificing on artistic expression, he manages to bring realism in his works

His project “Tyranny of Cataloguing” documented the trials and tribulations of an author stuck in a maze of books searching for his own work. The story begins in Calcutta, makes a stopover in Paris, and finally, via Bangalore, takes us to the English countryside, the site of the labyrinthine warehouse where a policeman finds the skeletal remains of the missing author—among the shelves, with its bony fingers clutching a worm-eaten book.

Tyranny of Cataloguing is a perfect example of Banerjee’s work, in which comic-like drawings accentuated sparingly with color, texts, and a bizarre yet somewhat melancholy humor merge to create visual narratives that operate more like chains of association than conventional stories.

Sarnath Banerjee, Tyranny of Cataloguing, 2008, Deutsche Bank Collection, Courtesy Sarnath Banerjee & Project 88, Mumbai

His works are inspired by history and architecture but not limited by them

His second book, The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers (2007) is about how the narrator, while in London, receives news that his grandfather has expired in Kolkata and left for him certain possessions, among which is an 18th century book of scandals called The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers. This is an original leather bound edition of a work that could fetch at least a hundred thousand pounds in the international market. But by the time he arrives in Kolkata to collect his inheritance, his grandmother has given away everything. The tale goes back and forth in between cities, centuries, and sometimes even between millenniums.

In the book, the author is wandering around, guided by his friend Digital Dutta, looking for the book in every nook and cranny. There are photos of trams, yellow ambassadors, claustrophobic architecture and other signature visuals of Kolkata. He introduces photographs of the city as well, sometimes drawing and painting over parts or all of them, and sometimes allowing them to stand on their own. So in one scenario there’s a photo of a Kolkata by-lane and a drawing of a long haired vagabond with a cigarette in his mouth walking down the lane in the photograph.

Sarnath Banerjee. The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers. 2007. Published by Penguin in India, UK and Denoel in France.

Banerjee enjoys transporting the viewer into an unheeded and overlooked scenario

Most people are accustomed to expect the obvious. Banerjee has the ability to show his viewers a different perspective, by himself getting under the skin of his characters and portraying them. Sarah McCrory thought the narrative possibility of his works could potentially affect a large community, therefore being suitable for a public art project. She asked him to present an idea for the 2012 Olympics for which he proposed a “Gallery of losers”, Barwa Khiladi (12th man).

The project consisted of 48 billboards, posters in local newspapers, and hoardings in East London, narrating the shared history of competitive sport. Going against the grain of most other Olympics-related advertising which solely emphasized winners, the artist decided to focus on the losers, the people who almost made it but didn’t quite succeed. He wanted to ruffle up the clichés about winnings as he felt that the entire society is totted up to win from infancy till death.

He came across the idea for the campaign in São Paulo, Brazil, where he met 1984 Olympics silver medalist Douglas Vierra who almost won the judo gold that year.

Sarnath Banerjee, Gallery of Losers, 2012, digital print on Hahnemuhle rag paper, 12 x 23.5 inches

Banerjee combines words and fanciful visuals in his work to tell his stories

Corridor, Sarnath Banerjee's first graphic novel, published in 2004, shows episodes taken out of the lives of an urban-minded generation of young adults. Full of character sketches, it is an intensely likable, unabashed portrayal of little slices of both familiar and unfamiliar India. Set in New Delhi, Connaught Place is of primary importance, as much of the story takes place at a bookshop in Outer circle.

Corridor navigates through the minds and interrupted animated conversations of urban India. Among its varied characters are Brighu, a postmodern Ibn Batuta in search of Phantom comics, Rotring art pens and a love life, and Digital Dutta, whose life unspools in his head, torn between Marx and an H1B visa. A freaky tango ensues between the frames charged by machismo and urban sexuality, as the author examines stereotypes, behavior, and morality in post-colonial India.

Sarnath Banerjee. Corridor. 2004. Published by Penguin India, UK and Vertige in France.

Bibliography