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Artist Profile1
Chitra Ganesh recovers buried histories to bring them into a public and contemporary realm
Chitra Ganesh’s diverse range of work, including installations, photo-images and sculptural works, is largely inspired by a mélange of factors like mythological narratives, queer politics, lyric poetry, erased moments in South Asian history and present day imperialism.

Taking a cue from these stories and integrating them with her own mythic imagery, she conceives a hybrid world of drawing and sculpture that articulates both historical conflict and psychic transformation. Much of her visual vocabulary engages an old Indian idiom (the term jungle) that denotes women who transgress social norms.

Elaborating on her source material, the artist has quipped: “I draw from a broad range of source materials comprising Greek and Hindu myths, 19th century portraiture, lesbian pulp novels, legal and activist testimonies, Bollywood (Hindi movies) posters, etc. Inserting altered imagery into traditional narrative forms, I layer disparate images and incorporate sculptural forms into my large-scale, site-specific drawings for creating a space where suppressed stories rise to the surface.”

Recovering buried histories to bring them into a public and contemporary realm has informed her decision to research and work with contemporary and historical political figures as well as mass mediated imagery. She adds: “This imagery has not been fully explored and these stories contain question marks best articulated through imaginative visual language. My processes of installation and collage work, sculpture and text, mixing drawing, developed as means through which meaning was generated, to begin with. The ongoing convergence and friction - both purposeful and unintentional - between literary and visual narrative accomplished this.”

By inserting abject imagery into traditional narrative forms, she wants to question societal oppositions of compliant/subversive or good/evil for exploring alternate models of female sexuality and power. A re-imagination of myths from the perspective of voices they exclude - juxtaposed with a confrontation of traditional images of female sexuality - her work reflects a deep commitment to queering traditional narratives and related power differentials.

Her creative process seeks to illuminate intersections of race and sexuality in ‘culturally specific’ contexts, and the crucial role played by excavating histories (be it between lovers or empires) in attaining a broader understanding of queer experience. As an artist and as an individual, she has always been fascinated by how dreams and their repressions (repulsions or reflections) end up shaping personal and social crises.

Born in 1975 at Brooklyn, New York, she received her BA (Art-semiotics and Comparative Literature) from Brown University in 1996, and then completed her MFA Visual Arts, Columbia University, NY. She has served as School Programs Lecturer and Liberty Partnership Instructor, Museum of Modern Art from 2004. Her select exhibits are ‘739 feet running wall’, Gwangju Contemporary Art Museum, Korea (2005); ‘Home and The World’, Mason Gross School of he Arts, Rutgers University, NJ (2005); ‘Characters: Scene I and Scene II’, Shore Institute of Contemporary Art, NJ (2005); ‘Floorplay’, Brooklyn College Art Gallery, NY (2004); Theory of Relative Power, Abrons Art Gallery , NY (2003); ‘Culture in a Jar’, Longwood Arts Center, Bronx, NY (2002), and ‘Crossing the Line’, Queens Museum of Art, NY (2001).

Among the awards and residencies she has won are New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (2005); Headlands Center for the Art Project Space Residency (2005); Astraea Visual Arts Award (2004); College Art Association Professional Development Fellowship (2001); Roberta Jocelyn Award for Excellence in Art (1996) and Rosalie Colie Award for Outstanding Work in Comparative Literature (1996) .

Explaining her thought process, she has stated: “Engaging with feminist thought let me see how rigid constructions of gender-based power and female sexuality are not merely reflected, but constituted and obsessively reiterated in storytelling as well as visual culture. I noticed in the process that social hierarchies and codes are upheld just as frequently via the absence and repression of narratives that are perceived as threatening to our world order (be it between lovers or empires). So the gaps in official history, the open fields where history and myth meet (or intersect), became a central engagement in my work.”

These gaps and fissures are evident in seemingly benign narration of traditional, mythological tales intended as cultural enrichment, entertainment for children. At the core of her work across media is a commitment to excavating and reiterating such narratives of transgression, which have been ‘systematically’ excluded from the official canons of history, literature, and art.