Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart following the recent exhibition at Gallery Espace in New Delhi, examines the intricate art of Chitra Ganesh
London: Colourful yet dark are perhaps some of the adjectives which best describe Chitra Ganesh’s art which is characterized by dichotomies. As such, her comic-like characters, often embedded with dark and disruptive connotations, are the main subjects of her works. In few words we are always quite unsettled and surprised in front of a Chitra Ganesh’s work. In a good way.
In a recent interview with Neelam Raaj of the Times of India, Ganesh discusses and explains her art.
Born in New York from Indian parents, Ganesh through her multi-media works, plays with her “dual-identity” to express her self, and to better understand and communicate to her audience. However, despite her upbringing she is still considered “exotic” in America while the Indian audience finds her themes and characters quite familiar and easily recognisable.
Her vivid artist vocabulary draws on Indian and American comics, Indian myths, religious iconography and much more, however a special attention is given to the “Amar Chitra Katha” comic book. After reading it again as a grown up woman, Ganesh paid attention to so many details she didn’t notice when she was younger. For example the female characters were depicted as pious figures yet scantily clad, and the rakshasis were depicted dark and the devis fair. So the artist realised that children books have more power than we think and through fairy tales they let us unconsciously accept stereotypes and set ideas. However not all of them are “bad”, in fact some children stories hold subversive meanings.
Ganesh hence decided to give power and prime role to those heroines who have been waiting all of this time at the side of powerful men. So, at least in her work she changed the history and went against the general expectations and replaced the Greek god Atlas and Hanuman with female characters!
NEW YORK: Brooklyn based artist of Indian origin, Chitra Ganesh is the current artist- in residence at Bose Pacia in New York City as part of their Transparent Studio initiative, showing her works from June 18th to July 16th, 2013.
The Transparent Studio is an artist studio program founded by Bose Pacia where the selected artists are provided with a studio space in the main gallery. The intention of turning the transitional gallery space into a temporary artist studio is to enable an atmosphere of engagement and conversation around the creative process, allowing an opportunity to engage with the artist is the given set up.
Chitra Ganesh received her BA in Comparative Literature and Art Semiotics in 1996 and her MFA from Columbia University in 2002. Ganesh’s work has been exhibited widely at venues including PS 1/MOMA, Brooklyn Museum, the Asia Society, and the Andy Warhol Museum, Fondazione Sandretto in Italy, Nature Morte Berlin, ZKM in Germany, and the Gothenburg Kunsthalle.
Ganesh’s art and practice draws equally from her Indian roots as from her engagement with contemporary discourses regarding identity, the feminine, history and such. An adept multimedia artist, her works range from text based canvases, illustrations, prints, installations and collaborative projects. Her visual oeuvre serves a concoction of mythology, folklore, sci-fi, Indian bollywood, graffiti- drawn from her international experiences- a heady mix nonetheless a stimulating portion for a discerning connoisseurs’ palette .
The female protagonist is central to Ganesh’s work, reminiscent of the male super heroes of the comic book traditions. The ‘heroine’ often takes on the garb of the superhero- challenging and questioning societal norms and beliefs. The artist’s narrative is fuelled by her efforts to challenge the established canons- of history, literature, art, culture. The super ‘heroine’ of Ganesh’s works gives voice to the excluded narratives which are often relegated to the periphery of the ‘popular’ and ‘accepted’.
A consistent element of Ganesh’s visuality is her adaptation of the comic book layout in her works. An important point of reference is the Indian Amar Chitra Katha comic series that the artist encountered early in her life. They present religious and cultural narratives based on Hindu mythology and Indian history. She combines these with her interest in Greek mythology, western fairy tales and fantasy literature. She skillfully adapts the popular comic book format to her large scale works. Her use of the comic script as a trope to infuse the otherwise playful visual with an intent and relevant narrative is one of the many high points of her practice.
The humor and lightness of the visual elements balance the weighty discourses she handles in her practice. The blown-up and larger than life scale of her works also references the multiple points of entry and focus. She uses the busy and sometimes overwhelming imagery to give material form to an abstract concept- which through this process becomes accessible to multiple viewers. The use of text in her works is an inviting point of reference which opens the eye to the fantastical landscape at view. The words interject her visual narrative, and the two elements together take the viewer on a journey that titillates multiple senses.
Bose Pacia will be hosting an open studio on 11th July 2013 where the artist will be present.
Sweden: The Goteborg Konsthall is currently hosting, for the first time in Sweden, a solo-exhibition by the internationally renowned artist Chitra Ganesh. The exhibition titled ‘She, The Question’ will be on display until September 30, 2012.
The exhibition presents a selection of works created by the artist over the last ten years in various media including video, photography, collage, and drawing. In several of the works on display, text and visual elements are also combined. In addition to these pieces, some of the works on display have been made especially for the Gotenborg exhibition, including a 6 x 9 meter billboard installed on the Konsthall’s façade.
Ganesh, born and raised in the United States but with deep Indian roots, finds her inspiration in Greek, Hindu and Buddhist myths and epic narratives as well as in the Bollywood industry, 1960s psychedelia, science fiction, feminine fanzines and comic books.
For this exhibition, she particularly explored the role of women in such narratives, and repositioned them as the main characters of the stories. In her work, the artist visualizes women as powerful rebels who confront their destinies and those of other people in erotic and creative narratives using some surrealist elements. Ganesh’s attention to women protagonists is also underscored by her participation in the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective, which aims to increase the visibility and development of South Asian women artists among other goals.
The Saffronart team on events you shouldn’t be missing this month in Mumbai, Delhi, London and New York, beginning with…
Chitra Ganesh’s “Reclining Figure”, rendered on the walls of Lakeeren Gallery as part of Drawing from the Present, a site-based project Source: Lakeeren Art Gallery
Esther Brinkmann: “Renewable Pleasures: The India Chapter” Where: Gallery Chemould, Fort, Mumbai On View Till: August 23, 2014
Esther Brinkmann is an acclaimed Swiss jewellery designer who has been living in India for the past four years. Inspired by her residency in the nation, this exhibition will feature unique, handmade neckpieces, brooches and rings that pay particular attention to techniques of engraving and enameling that developed in ancient India.
Lalu Prasad Shaw: “Solitary Spaces” Where: Art Musings, Colaba, Mumbai On View Until: August 31, 2014
Bengali artist and printmaker Lalu Prasad Shaw is notable for work influenced by the pre-independence Company School of art, Ajanta cave and traditional Kalighat Pat paintings. His talent lies in translating these influences along with scenes from his own life onto canvases. This solo exhibition at Art Musings features works that explore ways to create quiet and solitary meditations on paintings.
Chitra Ganesh: “Drawing from the Present” Where: Lakeeren Art Gallery, Mumbai
On View Till: September 30, 2014
Artist Chitra Ganesh has transformed the interiors of Lakeeren Gallery in Colaba with her illustrations and paintings, pulsating with stories. Known for her comic-inspired illustrations infused with mythological references, Ganesh’s works are layered with questions. In this exhibition, she continues to explore sci-fi, mythology and time travel. If you missed watching the artist at work, drop by Lakeeren to decode her paintings.
And if you’re hoping for a glimpse into her wide-ranging inspirations, here’s an interview by Art Radar.
Gipin Varghese, “Lifetimes”, Watercolour on paper 81″ x 16″ (Each), 2013 from the exhibition Lifetimes at Vadehra Art Gallery. Source: Vadehra Art Gallery
Aditya Pande: “H&M” Where: Nature Morte, Delhi On View Till: September 6, 2014
Known for his signature style that involves the use of vector-based software to create lines, Delhi based artist Aditya Pande will be showcasing a solo exhibition that continues his style of exploring boundaries through vector lines and other mediums and subjects. The title of the show, ‘H & M,’ an abbreviation for Harappa and Mohenjodaro, is indicative of Pande’s fascination with artifacts found at these sites. The exhibition will be unique in its steering away from a white box gallery atmosphere, making the space more interactive.
Nayanaa Kanodia: “The Great Outdoors” Where: Art Alive Gallery, Delhi On View Till: August 20, 2014
Self-taught artist Nayanaa Kanodia has achieved international acclaim since her first solo exhibition in 1986. Her recent works, featuring in this show, draw inspiration from nature. She carefully examines man’s relationship with the natural outdoor environment depicting themes such as innocence and peacefulness. Kanodia explains, “My paintings are varying angles of a single prism. At first glance, you see a humored portrayal of a quaint scene; upon further examination, an integrated, multi-layered expression reveals itself.”
Gipin Varghese: “Lifetimes” Where: Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi On View Till: September 6, 2014
Having successfully participated in several group shows, this is artist Gipin Varghese’s first solo exhibition that will present the work he has made over the last two years. Varghese re-examines contemporary issues, media, violence, and struggles faced in rural India. Through his socially conscious works he uses art to pay tribute to victims, and ordinary people who face struggles, by immortalising their stories. His works focus on figures, expressions and postures that we may otherwise shy away from, to also provoke viewers to consider social realities. Not only should this exhibition give you a new perspective to look at issues faced in India, but also gives you the chance to get acquainted with an emerging artist.
‘Stalwarts from the East’: A French lady pins a flower on the Sikh saviours of France, Paris, 1916. From the Toor Collection. Part of the exhibition Empire, Faith and War: The Sikhs and World War One Source: https://www.soas.ac.uk/gallery/efw/
Kalpana Shah, Ravi Mandlik, Anwar, Brinda Miller, Nupur Kundu, Aisha Caan, JayShree Kapoor, Christina Pierce: “Indian Summer” Where: Albemarle Gallery, London On View Till: August 23, 2014
This exhibition features prominent contemporary artists who have achieved acclaim in India and abroad. The exhibit is presented by Arts for India; a charity that supports the Delhi based International Institute of Fine Arts (IIFA), which is one of the few private sector providers of an art education in India. Attending this exhibition is likely to expose you to works by artists from India, as well as those who have been influenced by Indian art and culture. Simultaneously, you can also show your support for the development of art education in India, by attending this show.
Pradeep Puthoor: “The Art of Pradeep Puthoor” Where: Everyman Cinema, Belsize Park On View Till: September 2, 2014
Pradeep Puthoor is a Kerala-based contemporary artist who is beginning to achieve world-wide acclaim for the fantastical worlds he creates in his works through his creative and illustrative skills. This exhibition of his paper works is organized by the Noble Sage Gallery, at the Everyman Cinema in Belsize Park. This is a show that is guaranteed to satisfy art enthusiasts and collectors. Visiting this exhibit can easily be combined with watching a film at the Everyman Cinema, or paying a visit to the permanent collection at the Noble Sage Gallery, next door.
Empire, Faith and War: The Sikhs and World War One Where: The Brunei Gallery, SOAS On View Till: September 28, 2014
This exhibition features a carefully curated selection of unique and rare photographs, drawings, newspaper articles, comics, postcards, uniforms, gallantry medals, art works, as well as folk songs that commemorate the contribution of Sikh soldiers in the Great War. The exhibition, organized by the UK Punjab Heritage foundation, also features an album of X-Rays of injuries of wounded Indian soldiers lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection. This exhibition is definitely worth a visit, to gain a sense of Sikh history and culture, particularly with respect to colonial and war periods.
City as subject/matter: Belfast, Hong Kong, New Delhi, New York, Tel Aviv, Tirana and beyond Where: New York (Click here for multiple venues) On View Till: August 26, 2014
Curated by Marco Antonini in collaboration with Catalyst Arts, Hila Cohen-Schneiderman, Khoj International Artists’ Association, Eriola Pira and Magdalen Wong, this group exhibition features artists Seher Shah, Vibha Galhotra and Gigi Scaria among others. It is presented as a series of four consecutive exhibitions hosted by NURTUREart, Mixed Greens, Invisible Exports and Unions Docs. Multiplicity is an international survey of artworks sharing an interest in the politics and poetic potential of contemporary urban environments. The works address the myriad public and private rituals of the city, mining its institutional and vernacular histories while re-imagining its formal and functional aspects.
Readymade | Contemporary Art from Bangladesh Where: Aicon Gallery, New York On View Till: September 6, 2014
Aicon gallery presents the first ever extensive survey exhibition of contemporary Bangladeshi art held in New York. The exhibition features nine artists collectively exploring the complex and interlocking cultural, political, economic and environmental issues currently facing the often paradoxical and rapidly changing society and state of Bangladesh. The featured artists include Kazi Salahuddin Ahmed, Masum Chisty, Khaled Hasan, Imran Hossain Piplu, Promotesh Das Pulak, Dhali Al Mamoon, Yasmin Jahan Nupur, Mohammad Wahiduzzaman and Wakilur Rahman. The work in this exhibition unpacks these issues through the concept of the readymade, both in its art historical context, and as a term referring to Bangladesh’s massive and unwieldy ready-to-wear garment industry.
Kanika Pruthi of Saffronart discusses Raja Ravi Varma’s influence on Indian illustrative arts over the decades
New York: A conversation about the nascent phase of westernized Indian art is incomplete without a mention of Raja Ravi Varma. The famed painter of the royal Gaekwad family of Baroda, he has many firsts to his credit. He was one of the first painters to use oil as a medium, creating magnificent portraits of the Indian royals in the western academic style. He started his career in the princely state of Travancore in southern India, where he was the court painter from 1857 to 1872. He went on to open the first printing press in India, a move that had a decisive impact on Indian art, beyond what would have been Varma’s understanding and intention at the time.
Other than using oil paints and creating portraits seeped in realism, Raja Ravi Varma’s style of painting played a foundational role in defining the Indian prototype imagery in the proceeding decades. His rendition of the characters from Indian mythology decisively shaped the Indian visual culture, the impact of which can be felt even today. The voluptuous heroin with long dark hair and defined features complemented the muscular heroes depicted with chiseled bodies and intent expressions. It is interesting to note that these images seem to be a product of his travels- presenting a generic Indian prototype and not an ethnically definable character. As Deepanjana Pal, the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma explains “The images were a composite created out of what he saw during his travels – the skin color was from north India, the way the sari was draped was Maharashtrian and the jewelry was usually from south India.”
Varma’s images gained immense currency among the Indian masses that in 1894 when his paintings traveled from Baroda to Bombay for a public appearance, lines upon lines of people filed through the halls for viewing. The public response to his paintings encouraged Varma to set up a printing press so as to generate images for public consumption. He imported a printing press from Germany to reproduce affordable lithographs of his illustrated paintings. Even though the press was an unsuccessful venture and he eventually sold it off, his initiative had a lasting impact. Fritz Schleicher, a German lithographer who bought his press, turned around its fortunes by using Varma’s mythical figures on advertisements, flyers and ultimately calendars. This episode had a monumental impact. Varma’s imagery percolated the Indian household and mind. The popularity of the printing medium, mass production of goods and images and increased public consumption helped in the dissemination of the new Indian imagery. Other printing press that sprung around India and later comic books like Amar Chitra Katha started producing and emulating Varma’s imagery.
The printed image in India owes a significant debt to Varma’s creations and efforts. In turn, these images rendered on ink and paper, decisively impacted the illustrated arts in India. Even contemporary Indian artists continue to build on this tradition. They have gone on to adapt these early images and weave them into a new discourse- constantly re-imaging and re-imagining the role of the Indian hero and heroine. Chitra Ganesh and Pushpamala N are two such contemporary Indian artist whose practice clearly draws from Varma’s oeuvre.
One thing is for certain, Varma’s legacy will continue to have a lasting impact on India’s artistic traditions in the years to come. Some will enjoy it in its original garb while others will re-create it for the contemporary audience- just as Varma had done over a century ago.