Leave logic at the gallery doors,smoke a fat spliff and then enter the works of New York-based artist Chitra Ganesh. Prepare to be confronted with floating heads,women with multiple arms,beauties that morph into skeletal spectres and ghosts that rediscover the past. It is not about shocking the viewer into pitying the protagonistsif anything,these urban deities may leave the viewer a tad intimidated.
Ganesh has been working non-stop for three months on her solo The Ocean Beneath. Her sleep-deprived eyes look like they could do with a holiday,which is planned for later. First,however,this American desi needs to welcome viewers on opening night,January 8,at Chatterjee & Lal,behind Radio Club.
Showing in India is exciting. This is my first solo,but its really a microcosm of a bigger global interest in
Indian art, says the 33-year-old Ganesh who began painting 10 years ago. While her parents wanted her to do engineering or become a doctor,Ganesh was so stimulated by the art scene in Brooklyn that she studied art Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture,and received her MFA from Columbia University in 2002. She began with oil and acrylic on canvas,went on to discover new media like video art,lenticular prints and comic books.
Sourcing her references from Amar Chitra Katha,Bollywood and other forms of popular culture,Ganesh contextualises her narratives to include personal stories of self discovery,tales of empowering women and creating a new visual archive of images that re-invent myth.
Of course,my reference to Satyam Shivam Sundaram is not specific to the movie. I am interested in how these images become iconic and I reinvent the image. With the comics,it isnt a direct reference to any deity or myth,I am just using the style to make my own statements, reiterates Ganesh.
Interestingly,eight-years-ago,I was told by a critic that she did not understand my work because it was placed specifically in Indian culture. I have spent my life trying to understand the art histories of the West,its time that the favour was returned, she says with a sardonic smile. Given that the global interest in Indian art has exploded,making Ganesh one of the most sought after Indo-American artists,validates her stand. The Saatchi Gallery was one of the first collectors to acquire her work,along with the Queens Museum. Currently,she is being promoted by the Thomas Erben Gallery,and has a presence online on portals like saffronart.com and artnet.com.
Chitras work is at all times dynamic,thoughtful and complex. Her feminist,queer motifs successfully dissolve all traces of compartmentalisation, says Thomas Erben. Ganeshs choice to expose the bloodier and macabre side of life ensures her works are not typically feminine in the pursuit to beautify or embellish. The darker side of life is always buried,hidden from view,which is why I want to excavate them. They deal with sexuality and thats not accidental, says that artist whose queerness forms a backdrop to her work.
Exploring the city with her friends and her partner,Ganesh is discovering new aspects of material she did not have access to as diaspora. My resolve is to spend more time with the people I love, she says grinning. However 2009 is busy year for Ganesh with shows lined up in Long Island,Arizona and even Delhi.