Sarnath Banerjee, born in Kolkata in 1972, is an Indian graphic novelist, illustrator and publisher. After studying visual communication at Goldsmiths College in London, he published his first book, Corridor, in 2004. It is considered one of the first Indian graphic novels and brought the artist, who now lives in Berlin, international recognition.
As in his later works, the graphic novel explores stereotypes, myths, and morality in contemporary India and the postcolonial world. At the same time, Banerjee's work is characterised by a whimsical, melancholic humor and a poetic critique of the mechanisms of power.
In 2016, his project "An Encounter with Thomas Browne and other Commonplace Utopia" transformed Deutsche Bank's Canary Wharf office into a walk-in book with 80 large-scale artworks. For each of the eleven floors, he developed a series of individual images or short sequences that were transferred to large-format wallpaper. Accentuated with few colours, they are comic-like drawings with pointed texts and a lot of absurd humour. A structure of independent but interconnected episodes unfolds across the floors.
How Banerjee’s work drew inspiration from centuries of literature
Banerjee's favourite authors include Fernando Pessoa, Jonathan Swift, and Robert Walser. Literature and books are ever-present in his work. "An Encounter with Thomas Browne and other Commonplace Utopias" is therefore also a journey through more than a thousand years of literary history – from al-Kindi, who introduced the Islamic world to the writings of Aristotle and Plato in Baghdad in the 9th century, to J.A. Baker, who in the 1960s in Essex pursued a very British passion for bird-watching.
The British philosopher and poet Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), who inspired Banerjee's vast body of work for Deutsche Bank, was a polymath who explored science and medicine as well as religion and esotericism. He also enriched the English language with hundreds of new words such as computer, electricity, hallucination, medical, suicide and therapeutic. The commissioned work was not only inspired by Banerjee's reading and everyday observations while travelling but also emerged from a dialogue with Deutsche Bank staff, with whom he discussed places of retreat. This led to several drawings of gardens by Banerjee, who is concerned with the idea of a private Arcadia, its cultural or social aspects, and the growth and cultivation of ideas.
Historical illustrations intended to guide and inspire
On the 10th floor of the building, staff and visitors encountered various episodes on the theme of "Walking". The artist had various figures from cultural history appear here: Gandhi and Badshah Khan marching together for peace, or the philosopher and flaneur Walter Benjamin. "The people in the drawings,” says Banerjee, “are like Sherpas who take you to another thought process.”
About this article series
This article forms part of a special series celebrating Deutsche Bank’s 20 years as Global Lead Partner of Frieze art fairs, taking a closer look at one of 20 artists we have collaborated with and whose work features in the Deutsche Bank Collection.
Deutsche Bank's commitment to art and culture
Deutsche Bank is the Global Lead Partner for Frieze art fairs, with 2023 marking the 20th year of the partnership. As part of its Art & Culture commitment, Deutsche Bank has supported and collected the work of cutting-edge, international artists for more than 40 years. A global leader in corporate art programmes, the bank also runs an Artist of the Year programme, as well as its own cultural centre in Berlin, the PalaisPopulaire. All initiatives are based on the strong belief that engagement with art has a positive impact, not only on clients and staff but also on the communities in which the bank operates. Thus further collaborations such as the Deutsche Bank Frieze Los Angeles Film Award in the United States, The Art of Conversation in Italy, the Frieze x Deutsche Bank Emerging Curators Fellowship in the United Kingdom, and the digital platform Art:LIVE, create access to contemporary art for people all around the world. Discover more here.
Main image: Sarnath Banerjee © Roanna Rahman
Deutsche Bank Art & Culture