Chitra Ganesh on the Shape-Shifting Commentary of an Artist
Chitra Ganesh is an artist whose practice arches over two decades. She began using the subway independently at a young age, exploring visual interventions on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, and immersing herself in South Asian community spaces and movements in the mid-late 90s.
An artist who absorbs the environment around — her practice encompasses animations, wall drawings, collages, computer-generated imagery, video, and sculpture. She draws inspiration from the theory of semiotics, Indian folklore, comics, like Amar Chitra Kathas, and other South Asian art forms like Kalighat and Madhubani, owed to her years living in Hyderabad as a small child, and her annual visits to Kolkata.
Ganesh's work has travelled the globe. Some of her solo exhibitions include the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA PS1, Gothenburg Kunsthalle, and The Andy Warhol Museum. Her work is also in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, Tai Kwun, and Saatchi Collection, among others.
SHREYA AJMANI Could you briefly introduce yourself?
CHITRA GANESH I’m a visual artist whose practice encompasses drawing, painting, comics, installation, video art, and animation. My parents emigrated from India to the US, where I was born, and I have spent most of my life in Brooklyn, New York.
Chitra Ganesh, Walking the Timeline, 2022. Acrylic on paper with cotton embroidery, glass, fabric, beetle wings, shells, vintage jewelry. Photo by Joshua White. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.
SA What were the pivotal factors or formative experiences that nudged the start of your practice?
CG I was fortunate that my parents always encouraged my interest in art, but the prospect of becoming a professional artist seemed impossible to me. Growing up, there was no one in our community who was a practising artist whom I could access as a role model. This changed on becoming involved with the South Asian Women's Creative Collective in the late 1990s and meeting other South Asians who were interested in the arts, some in a professional capacity. My mother also passed away around this time and I started working part-time and making paintings in my apartment.
SA How do you define success as an artist?
CG That’s a difficult one! It’s something you have to continue evaluating as life and structural circumstances change. For now, it means being able to devote a majority of your time and headspace to your artistic practice while also maintaining an intellectual/artistic space that can be privately yours, one that cannot be co-opted.
SA Who are your biggest influences?
CG There are those I met through school work and friendship, like Coco Fusco, Martha Rosler, Zarina, Kara Walker, Janine Antoni, Beverly Semmes, Rina Banerjee, and Wendy V. Edwards, as well as those whom I identified with across history, like Zora Neale Hurston, Unica Zürn, Ana Mendieta, Amrita Sher-Gil, Elizabeth Catlett, and Gloria E. Anzaldúa. Continuing an intergenerational dialogue is key.
SA Does your body of work embody a purpose or intent that you consciously strive to bring forth?
CG I wouldn’t say my work has a purpose, per se. But some of my priorities would be the shape-shifting possibilities of myth, the physical and psychic limits of the body, the idea of circular and non-teleological time, and new ways of embodying desire. I’m also currently exploring what a visual language of protest and dissent might look like.
SA Do you have a network of other artists? How do they support you?
CG I’m fortunate to have a wonderful network of artist colleagues. Aside from the invaluable emotional and professional support we offer each other it’s also special when there are opportunities for collaboration, be it through art-making, writing or activism. ♦
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