Chitra Ganesh

View of “Chitra Ganesh,” 2015, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Chitra Ganesh is a New York–based contemporary artist whose work centers on feminist narratives via popular graphic and South Asian cultural iconography. Her installation Eyes of Time, 2014, is on view in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art’s Herstory Gallery at the Brooklyn Museum through July 12, 2015.

EYES OF TIME is a drawing-based installation that also incorporates sculpture into a mural. The main figure takes its inspiration from a key Indian concept of divine feminine power, Shakti, of which the goddess Kali is a fierce iteration. Kali embodies time and change in Hindu and Buddhist writings such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and Devi Mahatmyam. According to these scriptures, we’re living in KaliYug, or dark ages of strife and discord.

The mural’s central figure, towering over the viewer at fifteen feet tall, wears a skirt of human arms, in line with popular portrayals of Kali as a demon-slaying goddess. The bodies in Eyes of Time literally pop off the wall, exceeding the limits of the two-dimensional frame. I’ve been working with clocks over the past year and a half, having sourced antique hardware and clock parts from local bazaars for exhibitions last year in Delhi and Mumbai. For this installation, large brass gears were fabricated in an allusion to the notion of mythic time as a circular rather than linear force, which has been on my mind as a point of intersection between contemporary sci-fi and traditional mythical narratives.

As part of the exhibition, I was given the opportunity to curate an arrangement of objects from the museum’s permanent collection, both ancient and contemporary representations of femininity, in order to shed light on the conceptual context, in both historic and contemporary art, for my own work. I also researched exhibition catalogues that addressed the concept of Shakti within their theoretical and curatorial framings. I examined a broad range of representations of Shakti and Kali, from kitschy fantasy art and twenty-first-century cultural appropriations to ancient abstraction and bronze statues dating as far back as the sixth century BCE. Eyes of Time picks up on a number of the ideas and formal references running through these curated objects, as I considered both visual and thematic resonance in my selection process.

One example is Eyes, 1996, a Louise Bourgeois drypoint print featuring a sea of endlessly repeating eyes which articulate ideas of the body in light of fragmentation, repetition, and iconicity. There’s also a 1971 psychedelic screenprint, Relate to Your Heritage, by Barbara Jones-Hogu, who was a part of the collective AfriCOBRA in the 1960s. I also included two figurines of ancient goddesses from Egypt and India, one of which is Sehmet, the Egyptian goddess of fertility and menstruation, and the other a seventeenth-century bronze statue of Kali. Some objects I initially selected faced conservation issues, such as being hundreds of years old or so fragile they could only be shown every few years at most—issues that one doesn’t typically have to consider with contemporary objects.

My first zine, Tales of Amnesia, 2002–2007, is also displayed in a vitrine in this show. The museum has made copies of it for visitors to peruse in order to contextualize Eyes of Time with zines and comics that focus on the intersection of ancient myth and popular science fiction, which is a critical aspect of my practice. There will be some programming around the exhibition, and the Brooklyn Museum will also be screening a few of the films I’ve made, such as the collaboration I did with Simone Leigh as well as an animation. I’m also hoping to have a dance party as one of my public events. Coincidentally, in the ’90s there was even a queer club in London called Club Kali.