Call & Response
Sreshta Rit Premnath
Sunroom Project Space | October 22—December 1, 2011
Sreshta Rit Premnath’s art exposes and questions structures of knowledge, power, subjugation and mediation that pervade our culture. With Rhizome, Premnath explores the issue of patenting genes of indigenous medicinal plants from developing countries by multinational pharmaceutical corporations. This project focuses on the ginger rhizome, the common cooking ingredient with historically well-known medicinal uses in India and China. Despite the fact that this traditional knowledge has been shared for generations, the plant’s properties are being copyrighted by corporate entities for commercial use. In retaliation, various biopiracy taskforces around the world are contesting these patents.
In his Sunroom Project, Premnath has planted a garden of ginger plants in a “pillbox,” referring to the small box in which one may carry medicines, as well as to a partly underground fort used as a military outpost. This slanted, octagonal container represents a landscape under siege and serves as an island of ambiguous ownership. The photographs on the walls of the Sunroom depict sutured fragments of ginger that emphasize the amorphous shape of the rhizome, while also evoking a cryptic alphabet. The artist sees the ginger plant’s horizontal underground stem, which is formless and spreads randomly, as a metaphor for the worldwide distribution of ginger and other genetic material. While India and China are still the leading producers and exporters of ginger, the plant travels through complex global networks from rural farms to trucks, sorting facilities, cargo ships and finally to grocery stores around the world.
Rhizome, 2011, ginger plants, soil, wood and four metallic C-prints mounted on Sintra, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.
The Arts at Wave Hill are supported by Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., Milton & Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and by the Cathy and Stephen Weinroth Commissioning Fund for the Arts.