As one enters Gallery Espace in New Delhi, one is immediately drawn to the spiral staircase whose adjoining wall is adorned with a large-scale drawing of a girl with a gas mask, another with a noose around her neck, tear drops and other apocalyptic imagery cover the rest of the wall’s surface. This work has been created by Brooklyn-based artist Chitra Ganesh who has a vibrant art practice that draws on a variety of media, hand drawing being at the core of her art.
Apart from the wall mural, Ganesh is showing a range of paper works and digital collages inspired by Amar Chitra Katha, Japanese comics from the ’40s and ’50s, and B-grade New York City science fiction comics from the ’80s in a solo show titled A Zebra Among Horses that will be on till October 31.
She says, “I share interest with a variety of comic books and graphic novels, including the Amar Chitra Katha. I still read a lot of comic books and have noticed that they are starting to emerge and be considered literature in their own right, alongside novels and short stories. I have been quite inspired by both specific mythological stories, as well mythology’s broader storytelling structures.”
Ganesh reinterprets mythology and comic-book iconography to weave fantastical tales from her own imagination. She integrates image and text to juxtapose two parallel narratives within the same visual frame. “In my works the text and image illuminate one another, making surreal and intuitive connections rather than text directly explaining image, or image being an illustration of words on a page.”
Her works are thus created by integrating fragments of the original comics with pen and ink drawings and rewriting the text. “I’d like to create a mythology that poses questions rather than gives clear answers, in which ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are no longer constitutive categories organising our world experience.”
As is evident from the imagery in Ganesh’s work, women are portrayed as either the symbols or the victims of power and desire. “My works are visual representations of women and femininity. I feel feminism is a foundational frame for understanding the world.”
The figures in some of her works are sometimes identifiable comic book characters and in some others, they are bizarre and ghostly with extra limbs. For instance, in a work titled Lantern Head, a ghostly feminine character emerges from a well which is symbolic of deep secrets of life. “A well hides a lot. It could be our emotions, fears or a burden of our relationships”.
Another digital work, A Zebra among Horses, is a comment on how women are supposed to fulfil defined roles even though they would want to be free from such social norms. Ganesh says about her women characters, “She is connected to the earth and yet not in the traditional way we think of her — as a mother, or a goddess. My women belong to a futuristic world, hence in some works their bodies are even connected to a machine.” “
Ganesh graduated from Brown University in 1996 and in 2001, attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and received her MFA from Columbia University in 2002. Her drawing, installation, text-based work, and collaborations seek to excavate and circulate buried narratives typically excluded from official canons of history, literature, and art.
(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for unboxedwriters.com)