When artist Chitra Ganesh revisited the Amar Chitra Katha comic books as a young adult, she found that the style of storytelling still spoke to her. Born in Brooklyn, New York, US, Ganesh’s introduction to the popular series was at her cousins’ home during her three-month-long summer vacations in India.
Then, for many years, she lost touch with the stories that had made such a deep impact on her.
After her under graduation in comparative literature and art-semiotics at Brown University, US, Ganesh relooked at these childhood reads through a new “artistic lens”. She had read Greek literature and mythology in college, and found that she could use the language of the Amar Chitra Katha comics “to tell new stories”. Today, the work in the cult series forms a large part of her art lexicon.
The Columbia University master’s in visual arts has shown her work in New York, Berlin, Paris, Zurich, among other cities. And while she “could count on the universal language of comic books” to speak to visitors globally, she could not expect Western viewers to have direct access to the Amar Chitra Katha context. She is expecting a different kind of response at her solo show in New Delhi, especially from “the generation of readers who grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha”.
Ganesh, who received the 2012 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in the creative arts, is currently making a mural on site at the Capital’s Gallery Espace, where her solo show opens on 28 September.
In a phone conversation with Mint, Ganesh spoke about the relevance of mythology and the comic book genre to her art. Edited excerpt:
Tell us about the mural you are making at Gallery /.
The mural itself will be a large figurative work. I am using mixed media; painting with acrylic, pigment and ink. There will be a collage element, which I will be nailing on to the wall. Often, I am inspired by the images I collect over time; images of children wearing gas masks, images of works inspired by the poet William Blake—some of the poet’s images were apocalyptic. I was struck by his (Blake’s) use of both text and image.
Why are these people in your images wearing gas masks?
There are images of people using gas masks in different contexts—war, conflicts, revolutions, toxic spills, reports of chemical weapons (being used).
Women are often at the centre of your works…
I am trying to portray a multiplicity of sides of the feminine. There is the beauty aspect that we see in adverts…the news media show the feminine a certain way. I am interested in portraying them as actors or agents in their own stories rather than the relational roles of mother, wife, daughter.
Why are myths important to you in your artistic endeavours?
Myths ask questions around who we are, what we are doing, where we are headed as a race and what makes us human as opposed to divine or demons. In a lot of ways, myths give a cartography, a sense of direction to humanity, a sort of compass on what is right what is wrong.
There are often depictions of viscera and violence in your works, with one woman’s chest spliced open and another depicting a twisted mess of legs and arms…
Mythology has a lot of violence. I was fascinated by the cycle of creation and destruction in those epics.
Metaphorically, (I wanted to represent) the female body as a site where conflict gets played out, where social code gets played out. It is the potential site of transformation and transgression.
Chitra Ganesh’s solo exhibition will be at Gallery Espace, 16, Community Centre, New Friends Colony, New Delhi (26326267), at 11am-7pm (closed Sundays), from 28 September-31 October. Visitors can see the artist working on the mural and interact with her ahead of the opening. The artworks are on sale. Prices start from $1,500 (around Rs.95,000).