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Predictable Disruption

Chitra Ganesh is back in Delhi with her solo show that reflects on the delicate bloom of orchid flowers and explores the tension between predictability and disruption that grounds the seasonal cycles of our daily lives

Her work is in numerous prestigious public and private collections, but you don’t get to see Brooklyn-based artist Chitra Ganesh in India very often. Last time she exhibited at Gallery Espace in 2013, and thankfully, starting January 28, she’s back with her new solo show ‘Orchid Meditations.’ It will feature new works on paper, large-scale comic prints and animation, reflecting her diverse image making practice that spans across media.

“Ganesh will be showing her latest animation, ‘Before the War’, created with the support of Ford Foundation Just Films and Studio NYC. An experimental animation featuring music by American artist-musician—poet Saul Williams, ‘Before the War’ explores an open-ended narrative of memory, love and loss, animated by the social and political shifts catalysed by the current pandemic environment and the politically polarising years preceding COVID-19,” informs the gallery statement. The exhibition will also include large-scale comic images that Ganesh is known for, which meld the mythic and futuristic in a contemplative landscape. The works on paper will draw upon the contemplative layered world presented in ‘Before the War’. Ganesh has developed an expansive body of work rooted in drawing and painting, which has evolved to encompass animations, wall drawings, collages, computer generated imagery, video, and sculpture. Her oeuvre is informed by her studies in literature and semiotic theory, and regular travels to India, with particular interest in Indian film and music. Combined with her upbringing in New York City’s far reaching urban and cultural landscape, these influences taken together yield a distinct perspective.

Born in 1975 in Brooklyn, she received a BA in Art- Semiotics and Comparative Literature from Brown University, Providence, RI in 1996. She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2001 and received her MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University, NY, in 2002. Beth Citron, New York based art historian, critic and curator, writes in her essay on the exhibition, “With Orchid Meditations, Brooklyn based artist Chitra Ganesh returns to Gallery Espace and New Delhi after a decade (her work has been shown in India in the interim at the 4th Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2018), bridging a long-standing engagement with experimental and non-linear narrative modes, long temporal arcs, and the language of comics with newer mediums and approaches, including animation. Reflecting on the delicate and precarious bloom of orchid flowers, Orchid Meditations is anchored in the tension between predictability and disruption that grounds the seasonal cycles of our daily lives. Seasons mark growth and loss, and historically correlate to weather, though this is now grimly unstable.”

The New York-based art historian goes on to add, “While Ganesh’s work has long moved between the deep past and far future as well as the mythic and every day, this body of work reflects a more recent turn towards first person experiences and lived time. Beyond her long-standing practice of looking to a wide range of global and Indian visual sources from high art and popular culture, Ganesh’s inquiries in Orchid Meditations refer obliquely to the Barahmasa, a poetic genre of Indian folklore that reflects on the rhythms of the year; it is also the genre of Rajput painting that reveals insights into the sensibilities of love and life apart from the main of Hindu mythologies.” Works including ‘Pink Forest Tiger Girl’ foreground a lush landscape with trees and other elements drawn from  Rajput painting traditions and a tree-headed girl atop a tiger at the top; this represents an inversion of traditional works with figures at the horizon of their compositions and a departure from how narrative is constructed in most of Ganesh’s figural work, including ‘Tree Dance’, framed around the portrait of a woman whose head is supplanted by a bird in front of a billowing cloud. In detailed works, Ganesh combines a vast array of influences including South Asian iconography, science fiction and queer theory, with the visual languages of vintage comics, Bollywood posters, and video games. Ganesh’s explorations of mythologies and narrative traditions bring important historical conversations to the contemporary moment. In nonlinear narratives and richly layered visual worlds, Ganesh subverts traditional storytelling to create women and queer-centric narratives of the future.