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  • Aidan McGovern

In studio with Rithika Merchant

When viewing Rithika Merchant’s ‘Ancestral Home’ it is clear that her influences come from a variety of sources. While aesthetically her choices of colours, patterns and details may connect to an era of botanical drawings and scientific classification it is clear that there is a much deeper thought process being undertaken.

Doctrine of Signatures - Rithika Merchant

The Doctrine of Signatures was a scientific belief that the plants and herbs which resembled body parts were designed by God to show humans what they were good for. As Michel Foucault points out in The Order of Things “Up to the end of the sixteenth century, resemblance played a constructive role in the knowledge of Western culture… it was resemblance that organized the play of symbols, made possible knowledge of things visible and invisible, and controlled the art of representing them.”

In Rithika’s works she attempts to tap into our collective experiences using totems, myths and rituals to highlight and explore our shared cultural histories. In doing so the nature of objects as markers of identity is, for me at least, disintegrated somewhat – the supposed uniqueness of one’s cultural heritage is shattered and exposed for what it is.

Exquisite Corpse IV (Totem) - Rithika Merchant

Exquisite Corpse was a surrealist practices of juxtaposition, reordering and collage where different participants would add to a story or drawing without reference to what had come before.

What is shared and common in this perspective is no less special. It is a sense of realism that reinforces the common human experiences and the notion of a shared history. As she highlights in the interview below, folk art is a narrative process, and in Rithika's work the focus is always on what brings us together. Yet in her reworkings of this she asks us to question the assumed cultural narratives that present fixed courses, instead looking at how these markers of identity can be reworked in contemporary contexts, as our cultures and we as individuals change.

Descent into Nidra - Rithika Merchant

Nidra is a shared tradition in both Hinduism and Buddhism describing the deepest state of relaxation – a state where understanding goes beyond reason and inference and shows insight into the true state of reality.

But rather than me harping on about these things further here is a short video of Rithika in conversation with the curator of this exhibition, Diana Di Nuzzo.

Don’t miss the chance to see Rithika’s works in person and pay a visit to us in Bien Cuadrado. Please check the opening hours or drop us an email to for more information.

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