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A massive pink replica of the Taj Mahal can be seen through the doors of the Syracuse University Museum of Art. While this pink reproduction serves aesthetic purposes, it’s also one of many functions at the museum that encourages viewers to learn about different cultures, said Romita Ray, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the architectural history department.
“The museum is a great laboratory for all of us,” Ray said.
With this interpretation, it is fitting that at the SU Art Museum Reena Banerjee, a polymer scientist and artist, presents her exhibition Take Me to the Palace of Love this semester. Her installations explore themes of identity, home and diasporic communities. Banerjee’s exhibition features three art installations: ‘Take Me, Take Me, Take Me…to the Palace of Love’, ‘Lost World’ and ‘Viola, From New Orleans…’
This exhibit has been in the works for some time, Ray said. She and Banerjee have known each other since the late 1990s and started talking about making this exhibition happen a few years ago.
The exhibition includes floating installations made of different materials and textures such as string, stones and seashells. “A World’s Lost” features pink, purple and orange dye powders to simulate a river, acknowledging the effects of climate change. “Viola, of New Orleans…” combines various textures using sheer fabric, wood and metal as media to create an abstract representation of an interracial marriage. And “Take me, take me, take me… to the Palace of Love” is the eponymous name of the exhibition – a pink-wrapped copy of the iconic Taj Mahal floats in the air, touching the ceiling with its imposing height.
One of the main highlights of the exhibition is to showcase the artist’s legacy alongside folk art. Ray said the exhibition is known as one of the most definitive collections of folk art from the Mithila region of India. Folk art from this area is mostly created by women, which offers a strong representation of female artists for viewers to see, Ray said.
“We are very fortunate to have a substantial collection,” Ray said. “We’re talking about hundreds of drawings done by these folk artists from that particular area.”
According to the exhibit, the inspiration for the title was drawn from India’s Taj Mahal, which not only represents love, but also a sense of loss and identity—all concepts Banerjee took into account when recreating the monument with a vibrant pink plastic shell.
“It was a way to bring the Taj to campus in my own watered-down way,” Ray said. “Also to make us think about migration and how we migrate with ideas, images and monuments.”
To enable visitors to further engage with these ideas, Kate Holohan, Curator of Education and Academic Outreach, organized a learning workshop to make connections between the exhibition, the museum and the academic community.
Holohan also offers workshops to give faculty members orientation to the exhibit. She always tries to include a hands-on component in these workshops to offer participants a chance to make something with their hands, she said.
“We spend a lot of time thinking about serious things, but much of life is joy and fun. So I always want to try to incorporate that into these types of workshops as well,” Holohan said. “(These workshops) bring together people from different departments and schools across the university.”
With Take Me To the Palace of Love, workshop participants have the opportunity to create their own interpretations of the exhibition with materials used in and inspired by the installations, such as pink plastic wrap, styrofoam and red needles.
Ankush Arora, a graduate student at the School of Architecture, attended one of the workshops and helped organize the exhibition. Arora said this process is a great opportunity as it gives him the opportunity to deal with a deep collection of folk art from India.
“Many of the themes you see in the paintings are very relevant today and speak to the themes you see in Rina’s work — light, love, depiction of gods and goddesses, women asserting themselves,” Arora said.
Ray said these themes can be experienced through more than just looking at art. The importance of bringing people together and creating interactions is highlighted in this exhibition, she said.
“Making art together, rediscovering who we are as people and the conversation is very important,” Ray said. “That’s what we try to create in all the galleries. These pieces of art are meant to create conversation more than anything else.
Posted on January 29, 2023 at 9:47 pm