Artist Chitra Ganesh mines the subconscious for an altered femininity

Artist Chitra Ganesh – named the 2015-16 Estelle Lebowitz Endowed Visiting Artist in Residence at the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities at Rutgers – is interested in the intersection of ancient myth and popular culture. Using drawing, mixed media, and site-specific as well as text-based works, the artist draws from Hindu, Greek, Buddhist and 19th-Century European portraiture to comics, Bollywood and anime. She even incorporates sculptor Louise Bourgeois’s endlessly repeating eyes.

A solo exhibition, showing her “alternate articulations of femininity,” is on view at the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries, Douglass Library, New Brunswick, through December 10, and on Tuesday, November 3, Ganesh will give a public lecture in the library at 5:30 p.m., preceded by a reception at 5 p.m.

Ganesh’s paintings are dreamlike and stream-of-consciousness. She uses a process of automatic writing – writing from the heart and ignoring messages from the head – resulting in nonlinear narratives that combine “collective imagined pasts and distant futures.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by how dreams and their repressions shape personal and social crises,” Ganesh writes. “My installation, photography and sculptural work is inspired by mythological narratives, present day imperialism, queer politics, lyric poetry and erased moments in South Asian history. Taking these stories and integrating them with my own mythic imagery, the hybrid world of drawing and sculpture articulate both historical conflict and psychic transformation. Much of my visual vocabulary engages the term junglee, an old Indian idiom that describes women who transgress social norms.”

The exhibition’s opening work, “Hers, An Inner Web,” shows a feathered, mirrored figure with one eye where a head might be, seated on a claw-footed chair, crossing her own three legs – clad in polka dots and Mary Janes. Hands, adorned with purple stones for fingernails, are also crossed. To one side, fangs protruding from a woman’s lips are lassoed by a silver chain. The artist asks her viewers to “seek and consider new narratives of sexuality and power.” These images hint at the confusing expectations and pressures on women, to be both girlish and seductress, to be beautifully soft and yet have the power to bite and sting.

“The Wipe” is an intimate moment with a roll of toilet paper suspended from a broken limb, either a tree or a human hand. Co-joined women have two heads, four arms, and noses descending into arms, making them look like elephants, and suggesting the Hindu god Ganesh – coincidentally the artist’s last name. The lower end of these co-joined figures forms a sort of mermaid fin, or tail, and one of those four hands – this one with about seven fingers – is wiping the yoni.

Other works show women in impossible contortions, holding scissors, one with no arms but six breasts equipped with eyes. Recurring themes are co-joined figures, eyes, fangs, claw-like fingernails, truncated body parts. Ganesh employs materials from the sewing box – beads, eyes, sequins and mesh – materials historically associated with female crafters.

“Rabbit Hole,” an animated video, combines Ganesh’s imagery with the scene from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a goddess in the place of the Cheshire cat, wagging its tail in a tree while the main figure makes her descent into the dark pit.

“I have always loved comics,” she says. “I love that they are a medium accessible to a wide variety of audiences. I like the way comics tell stories, and the complexity and power that the form delivers to young audiences by integrating image and text.”

One room is devoted to her comics, rendered with an artist’s use of color and form, with classical Indian bejeweled female figures, dismembered, also dreamlike, blended with comic stylization such as the word “amaze” separated into “a MAZE,” rays coming out of the last four letters.

There are views of the future, with a figure clad in a space suit and globular helmet from which protrude suctions cups and wires. From a nozzle emanates the head of a bejeweled goddess.


The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.


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