Suchitra Mattai Guyana, b. 1973

Overview

Suchitra Mattai is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work tells visual stories that touch on her Indo-Caribbean lineage. Blending painting, sculpture and installation with methods suggestive of domestic labor which she learned from her grandmother, such as sewing, embroidery and crocheting, the work addresses such topics as the legacy of colonialism, and relationships between culture and gender roles.

 

Mattai has lived in Guyana, Canada, the United States, India, and Europe. Her work addresses the disorientation of not really having a single home—a feeling that informs much of how Mattai thinks about identity. Found objects, as well as craft-based processes and materials, play an essential role in her practice, in part because of the potentialities that arise from materials with forgotten or erased histories.

 

“I’m inspired by the mystery of the objects I find,” Mattai says. “When I combine multiple objects and mediums in a work, the collective aura translates into a space of new myth and new folktale. It's no longer about history. It’s about the immediate, and how the past plays into the contemporary conversation.”

 

Among Mattai’s most illustrative bodies of work are her vibrant, kaleidoscopic sari tapestries. The process of their creation involves traditional domestic labor techniques such as sewing, embroidery, and crocheting, which Mattai learned from her grandmothers. Expressive of her own multi-layered identity, they are made from a mixture of everyday found materials such as feather boas, fabric, beads, and rope, and legacy materials such as ghungroo bells, prayer Dupattas, and her mother’s vintage saris, which possess embedded cultural and familial meanings. Though they are fundamentally abstract, Mattai mobilizes the materials and methods involved in these works to address such topics as the legacy of colonialism, and contemporary issues surrounding gender, labor, and family.

 

“Many of my references are unambiguous, because I’m highlighting a history that hasn’t been told before, and giving voice to people who weren’t included in written history,” Mattai says. “It becomes important to focus on them and their stories, but hopefully not to the detriment of making the work widely understood.”

 

The poetry, Mattai explains, is in the gap. Masterfully mingling the singular and the ubiquitous, as well as the objective and the non-objective, her juxtapositions create a call and response between the specific materials, processes, and topics addressed in the work, and the unknown lived experiences of the individual viewer. Someone might not know all the specific references, but through an emotive or empathetic reaction to the work, they can still relate and even locate themselves within Mattai’s new myths.

 

“It’s about creating a new, more universal folklore that is intercultural, and not only situated in the past,” Mattai says. “Most of the heroines that appear in my work are contemporary. That is something that is important to me. It’s about revisiting history so I can talk about the present, and be relevant to this moment.”

 

Mattai received an MFA in painting and drawing and an MA in South Asian art from the University of Pennsylvania, PA. Her work is in the collections of Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, AR, USA; Jorge Pérez; Olivia Walton; Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO, USA; Kiran Nader Museum of Art, Delhi, India; Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL, USA; TIA Collection, Santa Fe, NM, USA; and Taylor Art Collection, Denver, CO, USA; among many others, and has been reviewed in publications such as Hyperallergic, The Boston Globe, Widewalls, and Wallpaper Magazine, among others. Current and forthcoming exhibitions include In the Adjacent Possible at John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI, USA; Form Forecast at MCA Chicago, IL, USA; The Depth of Identity: Art as Memory and Archive, curated by Rosie Gordon-Wallace and supported by the Green Foundation; Reorient at the Wing Luke Museum, Seattle, WA, USA; and Breathe into the Past: Cross Currents in the Caribbean, at the Colorado Fine Arts Center, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO. Recent exhibitions include Suchitra Mattai: Breathing Room, Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID, USA; State of the Art 2020, Crystal Bridges Museum/the Momentary, Bentonville, AR, USA; Sharjah Biennial 14, Sharjah, UAE; and Realms of Refuge, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, IL, USA; as well as exhibitions at the Center for Visual Arts, Metropolitan State University of Denver, CO, USA and the San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX, USA.

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