Ranu Mukherjee Photo: Travis Jensen
Ranu Mukherjee (Photo: Travis Jensen)

Women to Watch: Ranu Mukherjee

Women to Watch: Ranu Mukherjee

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Welcome to KQED Arts’ Women to Watch, a series celebrating 20 local women artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries in 2016. Driven by passion for their own disciplines, from photography to comedy and every other medium in between, these women are true vanguards paving the way in their respective communities.

Ranu Mukherjee coined the term "hybrid film" to describe her dynamic, animated artworks created with hundreds of layers of photography, paintings and digital imagery. Some of her work examines cultural hybridity, the aftermath of colonialism, and questions of gender equality and feminism. Mukherjee combines influences from her personal visual culture and remixes them to create something new, with a narrative pointed towards social change. She is the mother of triplets and is currently exhibiting a new animation trilogy at the Asian Art Museum.

Where do you live?

I live in the Mission. My studio is in Dogpatch.


Describe yourself in one word.


What did you do last night?

Worked on Oracle Bones, the last animation for my trilogy, Extracted, and helped my kids with writing reports for school.

What can’t you live without?

Love and hot showers.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I would do an extensive tour of Asian cities, with mountain villages in between. Some I have been to, and some not: Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Calcutta, Kochi, Varanasi, Saigon, Kathmandu, Xigazê, Manila, Lahore, Penang, Chiang Mai and Busan.

Who is your personal hero?

Dr. Gabrielle Francis. Gabrielle is a visionary holistic doctor that I have been working with for 11 years. She is so far ahead of the game in her ways of combining a variety of traditions tailored to the individual and teaching in the ways of being a body now. She has helped me be in the place I need to be to do what I do, in so many ways. When I see her, I always think about how different things would be if everyone were exposed to the understanding she has to offer.


How did you find your creative voice?

I think it found me. Art takes up time and space differently than most things and I find that really compelling. I caught a glimpse of it once while making a painting in my first year of undergrad and I was hooked.

What is something most people don't know about you?

When I was a child I had tons of recurring nightmares that I named and wrote down. I always knew one was coming because I would be falling through a cavernous space full of screaming cartoon mouths. And while awake, I often saw cats out of the corner of my eye. (I have never posted this on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and I guess that's the best measure of what most people know about you.)

What do you do when you feel uninspired?

Write, procrastinate, dance, wander, worry.

What's been your biggest learning moment in your art practice or otherwise, and what did you take from that experience?

I think I learned most when I let go of ambivalence around being an artist and stopped trying to do anything else. Once I fully committed like that, I was able to start making a visual language that could reach people and do things I needed it to do, and as soon as that happened, opportunities started to come. It helped me to understand that despite all the different elements that are at play, it is the work that speaks.

An installation of Ranu Mukherjee's animation 'Breach.' (2015)
An installation of Ranu Mukherjee's animation 'Breach' (2015) (Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris)

What’s your greatest achievement and how has it shaped you?

Carrying and delivering healthy triplets. That taught me how incredible and strange bodies really are. Now that I live with them, they open up all kinds of dimensions I might never have access to otherwise.

Coffee or tea? What kind?

Tea. Spicy Chai. Though I had to stop having caffeine, so for now it has to be spicy herbal chai.

What does a perfect day look like for you?

Perfect day number one: A long studio day (mid-process after having collected or made all the source material I need in order to dig into the making of the work), followed by a dance class, dinner with my family, a bit of reading and a good sleep.

Perfect day number two: Art viewing and dialogue in the city during the day, beach on the island with family and friends in the evening sunset. I would add ending the day in a hot tub if that were an option. (This is modeled on a summer day in New York but could be adapted to anywhere.)

Who are your local inspirations?

So many. I’m surrounded by inspiring people. I’m most inspired by people I have been lucky enough to work with in one way or another. Among them Wendi Norris, Marc Mayer, Desirée Holman and Amy Balkin.

'Jade 2', ink and pigment on paper (2016)
Ranu Mukherjee's 'Jade 2', ink and pigment on paper (2016). (Courtesy of the artist)

Favorite meal?

I love Indian food of all regions.

What upcoming show are you excited about?

Hito Steyerl: Factory of the Sun at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. It’s been up since February but I haven’t been to see it yet. It runs until Sept. 12. Locally, Otobong Nkanga's MATRIX 260 at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Making large bodies of work -- pushing multiple-channel video, collaged textiles and painting, making national and international exhibitions, and doing large-scale public commissions.

If you could live in a book, TV show, movie, play or painting, what would it be?

Wangechi Mutu's A Shady Promise.

Where and when can people see you and your art in action?

My exhibition Extracted is on view at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco until Aug. 14, 2016. I also have a three-channel video at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until Aug. 3rd. In December I’ll be doing a residency at the de Young Museum, and my third solo show at Gallery Wendi Norris opens in May 2017. Orphan Drift, a collaborative project with Maggie Roberts, is showing with our work from the ’90s in Matter Fiction, which is running in Museu Berardo in Lisbon until the end of August; and Unruly City, an exhibition of new work, will be at Dold Projects in Germany in October of this year.

Experience Ranu Mukherjee’s artwork in her film 'Home and The World':

Curious about who else made the list? Check out the Women to Watch series page, including photo galleries, interviews, videos and information about our upcoming Women to Watch event at the SFJAZZ Center featuring artists from the series.


Do you know a Bay Area artist who is doing amazing things? We want to hear from you! Highlight her efforts using #BayBrilliant.