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.
Premnath received an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College, and was a 2008 studio fellow at the Whitney Independent Study Program. He has had solo exhibitions at Galerie Nordenhake in Berlin, Germany; Gallery SKE in Bangalore, India; and the Islip Art Museum in East Islip, NY. In 2010, he showed the solo project Zero Knot at Art Statements, Art Basel, Switzerland. His work has been included in group shows in Paris, New York and Hong Kong. Residencies include the Civitella Ranieri Fellowship in Umbria, Italy; the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME; and the Yale-Norfolk Painting Residency at Yale University. In 2011, Premnath was awarded an Art Matters Foundation Grant. He is the founder and co-editor of the magazine Shifter.