A huge portrait greets you as you enter Lakeeren Gallery in Colaba. Painted on the wall, her face is adorned by parts of HG Wells’ dismantled time machine. In places, the mechanical parts look like ornaments — automotive junk jewellery — at others, they jut out of her skin, giving her a post-apocalyptic grotesque-ness. The women New York-based artist Chitra Ganesh has painted on the wall, shock you and draw you in with the aberrations on their beautiful bodies — breasts with eyes, legs with crocodile scales, and feet with extra toes.
Ganesh is “fascinated with disruption”, as she is with science fiction and her exhibition “Drawing From the Present”, which opens at the gallery tomorrow, is replete with both of them. “I never wanted to make an aggressive statement about feminism or my race,” says Ganesh, who is widely known as a feminist artist of Indian-origin.
Influenced by manga, American graphic novels, sci-fi books and movies, the exhibition at Lakeeren looks like pages straight out of a comic book, with time as its central theme. The artist has been using the gallery as a residency — living within the white cube, rarely moving out and working on the exhibition.
Ganesh is fascinating to watch with her hands-on approach. She had an assistant helping her out but Ganesh couldn’t adjust. She says, “I felt there was something missing. Lines are like finger prints of an artist. You can always tell when someone else has drawn a piece,” she says.
It’s been a year since Ganesh has been in India. Last September, her show “Zebra Among Horses” at Gallery Espace caused quite a buzz in the Delhi art scene. During her time there, she rambled through the narrow lanes of the old district, collecting pipes and ropes of different materials. These will be pasted on to her wall drawings converting them into futuristic new-media installations. Ganesh will also put up drawings on paper and photographs of walls she has shot on her travels through India.
Being a diaspora artist has not been easy. Her exhibitions in the US carry the baggage of race with them. “Just like you won’t find many Dalit artists in a gallery in India, it is difficult for a coloured person to have an exhibition in a big gallery in the States,” she says. But Ganesh braved through it, with group shows, applicationsto galleries, luck and advice from friends.
The 39-year-old’s “immigrant work ethic” has done her good. She has had recent solos at the Gothenburg Kunsthalle, MOMA PS 1, and The Andy Warhol Museum, and was the recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2012.
That the paintings have been done directly on the walls, means that they will have to be painted over once the exhibition ends on September 30. The impermanence doesn’t seem to bother Ganesh. In that sense, she is almost like a street artist. Another disruption, of how art is treated in a gallery space.