Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati
September 17, 2021 – February 27, 2022
Curated by Amara Antilla

Sreshta Rit Premnath uses sculpture, photography, video, and painting to explore the possibilities and limits of political agency. Borrowing from the strategies of Minimalism and Conceptualism—20th century art movements known for simplicity of form and primacy of the idea—he works with natural, raw, and industrial materials. Earth, aluminum, chain-link fencing, foam, and plaster are used to render spaces of encounter that highlight the inequities faced by migrants, refugees, and other marginalized groups. “The condition of being different— ‘other’—becomes a radical precondition for political possibility.” Premnath writes “The very bodies that do not count—that are dead to the social process—hold the key to reanimate the social.” Drawing from his own experience as an immigrant to the United States and an advocate for the rights of asylum seekers and incarcerated individuals, he uses allegory to propose alternatives to the status quo.

For his solo exhibition at the CAC, Premnath activates a productive tension between seemingly opposing forces. The exhibition’s title, Grave/Grove, refers to the relationship between spaces of confinement or death, such as detention centers and cemeteries, and sites of growth or cultivation, such as greenhouses. Premnath’s installation incorporates plants. Its contents, weeds sourced from communities around the museum, grow between sheets of aluminum cut to resemble unfolded cardboard boxes. Above these, suspended figurative sculptures hang in pairs, submitting to gravity as they lean on each other for support. For Premnath, weeds are an allegory for the complex relationship that so-called outsiders have to the land they occupy. They survive in adverse conditions and are resilient, determined, and resourceful.

Four wall-based LED works resembling exit signs feature ambiguous word pairings—grave/grove, fall/land, hole/home, lean/hold—that activate a range of dialectic associations. Premnath uses metaphor to suggest that decay, loss, and alienation are inextricably linked to growth, belonging, and intimacy. Their legibility shifts in relation to the viewer’s position, since both words cannot be read at once, at times activating habitually overlooked parts of the gallery. A new suite of diagrammatic ink paintings depicts instruments of partition and control such as chain-link fences and crowd control barricades, subtly undermining their presumed fixity by incorporating areas of abstraction that suggest dissolution, opening, and release.

—Amara Antilla, Senior Curator, Contemporary Arts Center