Born in Bombay in 1949, Mrinalini Mukherjee was raised between Santiniketan, where her artist and scholar father Benode Behari Mukherjee was a teacher, and Dehradun, where her mother Leela Mansukhani, also a sculptor, was a school teacher. At the age of sixteen, she moved to the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, where she received her Diploma in painting and then her post-Diploma in Mural Design under the mentorship of K.G. Subramanyan, whose influence was decisive during her artistic career. A fierce supporter of the ‘living traditions’ of India and the necessity of studying their uniqueness in the postcolonial context, Subramanyan developed his theories in an eponymous essay, Living Traditions, published in 1987. From his teachings, Mukherjee inherited a strong sense of the richness and diversity of Indian craftsmanship, and subsequently explored a wide range of unconventional materials and techniques in her work. Experimenting with a variety of mediums, she established deep connections with materials such as jute, natural fibers, clay and bronze, exploring and understanding their unique qualities.
The present lot was executed in the 1990s, when Mukherjee was introduced to the medium of ceramic, first in New Delhi at a workshop organized by the Foundation of Indian Artists, and then at the two residencies in the Netherlands in 1996 and 2000 on an invitation from the European Ceramics Work Centre. The artist moved from working with dyed natural fibers to ceramics with the same visceral passion for the endless possibilities the material had to offer. “Enthusiastically, Mukherjee did not view this transition to other media as a rupture, but rather as a continuation of her work process, using natural materials with the avowal, 'My work is media-based and this will be media-based as well. I like to do what’s possible with the medium.' From knotting to kneading and massaging, Mukherjee continued to utilize her hands as her primary implements, indulging another directly accessible working method.” (M. Menezes, 1996, cited in S. Jhaveri, Mrinalini Mukherjee, exhibition catalogue, Mumbai, 2019, p. 43)
The delicately curved lines of this floral form recall the fragility of the petals of a flower. The elements of this work, however, have been solidified under the heat of a wood-fired kiln, and then tinted with a rich mauve glaze. The assuredness of the final work underscores Mukherjee's tireless exploration of the malleability of the material, finding ways to bend it to her vision. Exploring a vast iconography that resists any direct interpretation, the artist proclaimed that her primary inspiration was first and foremost nature and her surroundings, saying “I start with an image in mind, which could be floral or human. The image suggests the colours. I then acquire the material, prepare it for dyeing and start making the armature. Sometimes a particular colour that I want to use suggests the form.” (Artist statement, C. Iles, 1994, cited in D. Singh, ‘Mrinalini Mukherjee’, Frieze Magazine, 2015, accessed July 2019)
Mukherjee is currently the subject of a major retrospective titled Phenomenal Nature at the Met Breuer in New York.