Yakshi is one of Mukherjee’s signature monumental, freestanding, sensually tactile abstract sculptures. To make this work, she knotted dyed hemp, a natural material sourced in her native India, and wound it around a hidden metal armature to create a form that generally suggests a female body. The title situates this reference more specifically: Yakshi is a female forest deity in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain faiths. A symbol of fertility, Yakshi is traditionally portrayed with voluptuous hips, a narrow waist, broad shoulders, and exaggerated breasts. These telltale attributes are evident in Mukherjee’s depiction, yet the overall form remains resolutely abstract. Light passes through tiny perforations between knots and through apertures where knotted passages link, imbuing a paradoxical airiness into the hulking structure and heightening its erotic charge.
Trained as a painter, Mukherjee turned to natural fibers such as jute and hemp in the early 1970s, while studying at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, one of India’s most important art schools. The curriculum drew on the principles of the German Bauhaus art school, which unified art, craft, and design, and encouraged students to look to traditional idioms, indigenous materials, and historical genres to define a genuinely new Indian art. Through a practice that unabashedly merged art and craft, Mukherjee upended the decorative associations of her chosen medium, finding a set of radical possibilities for contemporary sculpture.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)