– Suchitra Mattai
I make art because we need to feel things, think things, and be in awe of things in order to thrive.
Suchitra Mattai is the featured artist for Untitled Final Friday at the Denver Art Museum on March 29. Read our Q&A below to learn more about her and her artistic practice, and then join us at Untitled! (You can see the program of events here.)
1. What do you want visitors/viewers to know about your creative practice?
My practice is characterized by a love of experimentation and learning. My current research project is inspired by stories of my ancestors’ passage from India to South America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through material engagement with physical and virtual fragments—fractured furniture, fraying needlepoint textiles, video, etc.—my work revisits colonial histories. I consider the colonial gaze, the gaze of the “other,” the vague memory of a past “home,” and my own family legacy of ocean voyages to foreign lands through contracts of bondage.
Much of my work is rooted in landscape. The places I create are born from memory, history, and imagination. The last three generations of my family have lived on three separate continents. As a result, I connect to all of these diverse places, and in some way my landscapes provide a space for them all to coexist.
Ultimately, I seek to invent a sense of “home” (both mine and that of the indentured servant) through these materials. “Home” becomes a conceptual space for “belonging,” and as an American, Caribbean, South Asian from Latin America the processes of migration, assimilation, and belonging are at the heart of this exploration.
2. What is a museum?
To me, an art museum is a space that encourages the exploration of art and ideas, generates new ways of thinking about, defining, and presenting artwork, and introduces viewers to cutting edge, forward thinking work, as well as historically and culturally significant artists. It is especially important to expand and challenge the definition of what is “culturally significant,” and to include a wide range of voices in the museum setting.
3. What collections/exhibitions are you connecting to for this event, and how are they inspiring you?
I am connecting to the Berger Collection for my Untitled event. I am drawn to the history, the technical mastery, and the sheer breadth of this collection. But I am also excited to think about it from a post-colonial perspective. What were the historic circumstances surrounding these works?
I am excited to recreate images from the Berger Collection with fiber. We will really re-imagine the work through a reconstruction of the actual images. With saris and found fiber I look forward to sharing my process from my work for the Sharjah Biennial. I am also excited to share South Asian culture with Denver—and having my sister come out from NYC to perform (a Bollywood dance!) will be wonderful!
4. What do you hope visitors will get out of your Untitled event at the Denver Art Museum?
I hope to offer visitors a multisensory experience (through visual art, dance, music, and making) I would love for them to take in the amazing exhibitions on view and to take on a critical eye when thinking about historical narratives. I hope that visitors will connect with the art, with creating, with my work, and with my historic and cultural sources in a meaningful way.
5. If you could collaborate with anyone (past or present), who would it be?
I would collaborate with the late Terry Adkins. He was a professor of mine in grad school and the more I investigate his work and practice, the more I realize how rich, timely, and risk-taking his work was. I keep seeing connections to my own work and I would have loved to have collaborate with him.
6. What’s your favorite place in Denver?
Denver has so many wonderful creative spaces and they make the cultural landscape so unique. RedLine Contemporary Art Center and Platte Forum are two of my favorite places. The Temple (where my studio is) is always unpredictable and exciting.
7. Who are some of your favorite Colorado creatives? What makes them interesting to you?
Doug Kacena is a wonderful artist and gallerist in Denver. I admire his ingenuity and creative spirit in all areas of his life. He is shifting the gallery model in ways that really expand Denver’s presence nationally and internationally. There are so many Denver artists that are taking risks—the visceral materiality of Amber Cobb’s work, and the intellectual experimental work of Joshua Ware are compelling to me.
8. What’s up next?
I was invited to be in the Sharjah Biennial in the UAE by curator Claire Tancons. My work will be there through June 10. I have a four-person exhibition opening on April 4 in NYC at the nonprofit “Pen and Brush” curated by Grace Aneiza Ali, and my work will also be in a group exhibition opening in May at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, CA.
Photo of Suchitra Mattai by Rachel Grammes.