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'rak'rüm (noun);
the back room of an art gallery
where artists and art lovers hang
Bushra’s Drawing , Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Bushra’s Drawing ,
2006 , mixed media and ink on denril, 11 x 14 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
The Incident, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, The Incident,
2001 - 2002, acrylic on fabric, 56 x 70 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
Hidden Trails 2, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Hidden Trails 2,
2007, Triptych, C-print, 24 x 25 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
Forever Her Fist, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Forever Her Fist,
2006 , digital print , 24 x 26 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
Untitled (Part of One Way or Another), Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh,
Untitled (Part of One Way or Another),
2006, mixed media , site-specific installation at Asia Society, 9 x 22 feet
© Chitra Ganesh
Sugar and Milk, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Sugar and Milk,
2008, digital print, 26 x 41.5 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
Forever October, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Forever October,
2009, mixed media on on handmade punjabi paper, 12 x 12 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
Timepass, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Timepass,
2007 , acrylic on wood, 29 x 31 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
Salome, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Salome,
2000 , acrylic on fabric , 84 x 72 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
In the Library, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, In the Library,
2009, mixed media including sumi inkc, acrylic, spray paint, silk cord & mirrors, 40 x 60 inches
© Chitra Ganesh
Ghostwriter, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Ghostwriter,
2009, Lenticular photograph, 20 x 30 in.
© courtesy of the artist
Tightrope, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Tightrope,
2011, digital C print, 50,8 cm x 127 cm
© Nature Morte
, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh
, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh
© Courtesy of the artist & Tilton Gallery
How We Do at The End of the World , Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh,
How We Do at The End of the World , 2011
Melancolia (The Thick of Time) , Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Melancolia (The Thick of Time) ,
2010, Digital print, edition of 5
© Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris
She the Question, Head on fire, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, She the Question, Head on fire,
2012, digital print , 70 x 50 inches
© Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris
The Colors of Grief, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, The Colors of Grief
© Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris
Ever seen the sunrise, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Ever seen the sunrise
© Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris
Yellow girl, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Yellow girl, 2009
© Courtesy of the artist & Studio Museum in Harlem
Mother always told me, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Mother always told me
© Courtesy of the artist
A Magician and Her Muse, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, A Magician and Her Muse,
2011, site-specific installation created for Samtidigt Tennis Palace Museum, Helsinki, 9.5 x 36 feet
A Magician and Her Muse, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, A Magician and Her Muse,
2011 , site-specific installation created for Samtidigt Tennis Palace Museum, Helsinki, 9.5 x 36 feet
The Dreamer , Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, The Dreamer ,
2013, Mixed media on paper , 80 X 51 inch
© Courtesy of the artist & The Gallery Espace
"Atlas", Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, "Atlas",
2013, Chromogenic print, 70 x 52 in.
, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh
© Courtesy of the artist & The Print Center
Drawing from the Present, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Drawing from the Present
Eyes of Time (detail), Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Eyes of Time (detail),
2014, Mixed-media wall mural. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco
© Chitra Ganesh. Photo: Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum
Camera Contact, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Camera Contact,
2015, Mixed media on canvas, 60 x 48 inches (152.4 x 121.9 cm)
© Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.
Atlas, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Atlas,
2013, Lightjet Print, 48 x 60 inches
Untitled, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Untitled,
2016, Digital print, 18.5" x 14"
Untitled, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Untitled,
2016, Digital print, 18.5" x 14"
Untitled, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Untitled,
2016, Digital print, 18.5" x 14"
Untitled, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Untitled,
2016, Digital print, 18.5" x 16.6
Untitled, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Untitled,
2016, Digital print, 18.5" x 24.2"
Untitled, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Untitled,
2016, Digital print, 18.5" x 24.2"
Untitled, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Untitled,
2016, Digital print, 18.5" x 20.7"
Untitled, Chitra GaneshChitra Ganesh, Untitled,
2016, digital print, 18.5 X 14
© Courtesy of the Artist and Lakeeren Art Gallery
Artist Statement Chitra Ganesh was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, where she currently lives and works. Buried narratives and marginal figures typically excluded from official canons of history, literature, and art inspire her drawing, installation, text-based work, and collaborations. Ganesh draws from a broad range of material, including the iconography of Hindu, Greek and Buddhist mytholog...[more]

Interview with Chitra Ganesh

New York, Dec. 2009 - After being wowed by Chitra Ganesh’s fall mural at P.S.1, ArtSlant’s Sophia Powers caught up with the artist at a west village cafe for a heady pairing of wine and conversation.  The discussion ranged from semiotics to sex, and the following interview offers some of it’s highlights.

Chitra Ganesh, The Silhouette Returns, 2009; Courtesy of the artist and Steven Bates

Sophia Powers:  One question I often like to begin with is, did you always know you wanted to be an artist?  How did you get into in art making, and was there ever anything else you considered doing professionally?

Chitra Ganesh: I was always interested in art at more than just a hobby level.  But I had no models of how to be a professional artist—no one in my family was an artist.  That’s why I started teaching middle school in New York, because it was a steady income and there was security.  But then I slowly started getting to know other artists, and was constantly painting.  I saw how it could be a feasible life, and thought to myself “Maybe I really could be a professional artist.”  It was time to try.  It was really getting to know a community—particularly a creative South Asian community, and a community of peers from college who are still practicing artists-- that helped me to do this.

S.P.:  Speaking of the years before your art career took off—I couldn’t help noticing from your resume what a good student you were!  (Ganesh graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a B.A. in Semiotics and Comp. Lit)  How would you say this academic erudition enters into your work?

C.G.: Well, I think for all artists having a critical framework is necessary.  My exposure in school to social theory and contemporary literature from around the world continues to influence my work profoundly – I’m especially thinking about authors like Clarice Lispector, Roland Barthes, Catullus, and Gayatri Spivak. Having said that, I remember feeling in college that everything I was reading about Indian (or so inspired) art was at least 5,000 years old – bronze or temple sculptures, or historic architecture such as Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, etc.  I think the American academy at that time was still focused on teaching Indian ‘classicism’ as some kind of authentic expression of Indian art.  I would have done more in the South Asian contemporary art context at that time if it were available to me.  While this has started to change in some important mainstream art contexts, I think Western discourses about contemporary art practices in the Global South still rely on national markers to describe a very broad set of practices.  For example, what is “Indian” about “Indian art”?  It would be wonderful to be a part of a conversation in the West where we talk about art produced in South Asia and by South Asian artists with the same depth, breadth, and specificity that we talk about American artistic movements and modes in the U.S.

S.P.:  Even though you were born in Brooklyn, you are often included in “Indian” art shows.  Is it strange to be thought of this category?  Was it a challenge to fit into these conversations?

C.G.: Initially it was a bit strange, because I would be one of the only U.S. born participants in a big group show of mostly Indian-born South Asians.  But while I know that that sort of grouping is largely a function of the art market, being considered part of the “Indian” art world has been very important for me, both artistically and intellectually.

Chitra Ganesh, Black Sands, 2005, 60 x 48 inches, mixed media on paper; Courtesy of the artist

The market, which I would describe as being historically Eurocentric, picks up cultural products from what it sees as the geographic (or cultural) ‘fringe’ and constantly attempts to incorporate them into the mainstream.  I think this is essentially the process we’re seeing with the profusion of geographically centered shows: “Latin American Art,” “Korean Art,” “Iranian Art,” etc.  These shows reflect a dynamic that I experience in my own ethnically and historically defined context, where the term “Indian” does not only signify a geographic location.  While the politics of location have by no means disappeared, I think their meaning has shifted since the beginning of economic globalization. There is no longer the same sense of a “center,” and the artistic elite are generally so geographically fluid.  The people I meet in Bombay I also meet in London and New York, and this certainly impacts the way these categories of place and identity function for us.  But, of course, that’s not to say for a second that these markers don’t mean a great deal.  There’s still a rigid vocabulary in so much of the art world that that marks the “other” through negation.  So often there is this elephant in the room—unmarked whiteness.  This should not be ignored.

S.P.: Did you grow up visiting India, and how often do you return these days?

C.G.: Yes, I did used to go as a kid—to Calcutta, largely, because that’s where most of my family was at the time, although we are originally from Tamil Nadu.  Eventually, a lot of my family moved away from Cal, and I visited other cities such as Hyderabad, Jamshedpur, Coimbatore, and Bangalore.  At one point in my adult life, I realized there had been a gap of about 6 years when I hadn’t been back.  Now when I go to India, I visit my family in Cal, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, and I go to Mumbai and Delhi as well for work and to visit friends and colleagues.

S.P.: How does your family understand your work?

C.G.: They have always been extremely supportive.  They don’t always connect strongly with the content of my work, but there are other things that they have come to appreciate about what I do, like the work ethic it requires, and the recognition I’ve been fortunate to achieve.

Chitra Ganesh, Girls With Skulls,1999 , 48 x 66 inches, acrylic on canvas; Courtesy of the artist

S.P.: I know that you found a lot of support for your work in the South Asian Woman’s Creative Collective (SAWCC—pronounced “Saucy”).  Can you tell me some about this community and what influence it had on your practice?

C.G.: Well, there was this moment for art in the late 90s when there was a much smaller South Asian community in New York, and it was really an intimate space where everyone knew one another, showed together, and supported each other’s work.  Now, that’s all changed.  Today the South Asian art scene in New York is more mainstream, and people have come to expect an array of events to consume, rather than creating spaces and planning events on their own.  Who would have ever believed that there would be something like twelve galleries in New York City focusing on South Asian art?

S.P.: Your work has also been discussed a great deal in the context of queer identity.  A few years back in Delhi I remember being told that there were not enough artists working with queer themes in order to provide material for a serious study.  But today that’s clearly not the case.  Can you talk a little about this both in the context of your own work, and the Indian contemporary art scene at large?

C.G.: I like the notion of ‘queer themes’ because it highlights a sharply critically minded engagement with sexuality in art history.  I think there has been this pressure on openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender artists to produce identity-based work, but I’ve also seen this change a lot over the past ten or fifteen years.  As the LGBTQ movement in India has grown over that time, there is more space to be ‘out’ in India, and I think this impacts cultural production at many levels.  In both the U.S. and Indian contexts, I’ve noticed a number of LGBT and queer artists using queerness as a staging ground and a lens to explore a broad range of ‘queer’ themes in their work, including the theme of political and art historical absence, intimacy, queer sex.  Many of these artists are also exploring more oblique ways of queering a subject. For me, it’s often about re-configuring the sexualized figure.  I use naked figures and penetration, for example, in order to critique power, while specifically aiming to decenter the availability of ‘eroticism’ as an interpretive trope.  In working with this kind of figure, I am commenting on the absence of sex in the art world, unless it is contained in some way.

S.P.: Really?  But so much of art is about sex.

C.G.: Well, look at the top shows going on at any given time—how often are they about sex?  When mainstream dailies talk about sex in art, it is often sensationalized.   Although newspapers are one particular kind of venue for disseminating information about art to a non-art-specific audience, taken together, they serve as a barometer for how comfortable people are with thinking and talking about sex at all.

Chitra Ganesh, Charmed Tongue, 2006 , 39 x 55 inches, digital print; Courtesy of the artist

S.P.: We’ve covered a lot of ground, but before we wrap up I’d just like to ask about your process—do you work quickly, slowly, in bursts, on one thing at a time, with music?  Tell me about your experience in the studio.

C.G.: I always have a lot of things to juggle at any single time, and I always take inspiration from many sources at once as well—illustrations, textiles, psychedelic posters, reading, and music.  But some of my most rewarding work has simply happened organically—out of the studio.  Ironically, as one becomes more successful as an artist, and has more and more deadlines to meet, the challenge becomes making time to see something slowly, slowly take shape.

ArtSlant would like to thank Chitra Ganesh for her assistance in making this interview possible.

--Sophia Powers


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