Myths, legends, fables and folklore generally differ across cultures, but they all have similar features. Meant to entertain and enlighten, these sacred stories and morality tales involve gods, humans, animals and even inanimate objects in often-supernatural circumstances.
Chitra Ganesh is clearly influenced by these surreal and symbolic narratives, as well as by more contemporary expressions, like comic books and Bollywood films. If you missed the Brooklyn-born artist's 2011 show as part of The Andy Warhol Museum's The Word of God series, you can see her work in Chitra Ganesh: Transformation and Transgression, at Michael Berger Gallery.
Primarily consisting of works on paper, this show includes a suite of prints called "Delicate Line," made in 2009. These are figurative works, but they are far from literal. Each portrays a female subject as a surreal jumble of body parts. In one, a disembodied head with fingers dangling from her tongue is tethered by her hair to a pair of legs in the midst of a bawdy pas de chat. In another, a kneeling headless figure wearing girly red underpants almost tumbles backward from the weight of appendages that sprout from her neck.
Each of the prints layers abstract imagery with more recognizable items: arms, legs, eyes, hookahs, flowers, tools and intestinal or umbilical cord-like protrusions. Yet not much is in its proper place. By adeptly exploiting the delicacy of the paper medium, Ganesh delightfully balances beauty and abjection.
Her transgressive and empowering view of femininity is echoed in "Rabbit Hole," the one video in the exhibition. Here she exploits her interest in animation by giving a more narrative structure to her fantastical imagery. However, Ganesh does not strive for a traditional narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Instead, she manipulates it in order to create an alternative vision. In this way, she can play with iconography by replacing the typical hero with more marginal figures, whose stories are elsewhere often subsumed or generally ignored. Her focus is on female protagonists who contort, morph and mutate their way into new epics of transformation — just as the title of the exhibition suggests.
Ultimately, Ganesh is interested in the mutability and fluidity of identity. She creates alternate narratives of sexuality and power in order to explore more complex notions of self.