Roberts Projects is pleased to present the gallery’s first exhibition with artist Suchitra Mattai, In the absence of power, In the presence of love. The show presents new mixed-media paintings, tapestries, and a soft-sculpture installation that evoke the artist’s Indo-Caribbean heritage. Mattai’s work engages with the subject and form of European pastoral landscapes and figuration as well as Indian miniature paintings. Linking craft-based processes, sumptuous weavings and traditional techniques, the artist portrays resolute brown heroines, replacing heroes and colonizers and reclaiming a patriarchal past.
The artist’s ancestral history informs her dialogue with European painting. Mattai’s great-grandparents were brought from the state of Uttar Pradesh, India to Guyana, South America as indentured laborers under British colonial rule. Guyana, South America, is considered part of the Caribbean due to its shared history, culture, and proximity. When slavery ended in the Caribbean in the 1800s, the British looked to their largest colony, India, to find laborers to work the sugar plantations.
Mattai describes her process as one of “brown reclamation,” reworking original images to tell new stories. Embroidery, needlepoint, beading and found objects insert women’s handiwork into the traditional painterly landscapes. In other works, the heroic stories, figures, animals, patterns, and landscapes of Indian miniature paintings are reconfigured. Here, the heroes are replaced by heroines—empowered and mythic, yet empathetic and accessible. They are peaceful warriors and include both the young and the old. In Future Tense (2023), a woman quietly reads of the future surrounded by floral needlepoints and a black beaded halo, combining myth, memory, and folktales.
The artist learned sewing, embroidering, and other techniques from her grandmothers, and uses family heirlooms in the work as an acknowledgment of her ancestry. Vibrant tapestries woven from saris (the clothes worn by many South Asian women) metaphorically unite members of the South Asian diaspora, who are spread across the globe—India, Europe, and the Americas. With every stitch and strip of fabric, the artist meditates on the lives of her maternal lineage.
The pendulous “fruit” (“phala” in Hindi) soft sculptures within the exhibition exist in a symbiotic relationship with the environment. Suspended and organic, the sculptures infuse the exhibition space with the artist’s ancestry and Indo-Caribbean identity. This is the first time the artist is utilizing braided saris to create this type of installation, creating a space where the aura of female bodies and spirits are present. In the absence of power, in the presence of love acknowledges the past and envisions a joyful future space for women and marginalized people.
About the Artist
Suchitra Mattai (b.1973 Georgetown, Guyana; based in Los Angeles) is a multi-disciplinary artist of Indo-Caribbean descent. Mattai received her MFA in painting and drawing and MA in South Asian art from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Past projects include group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AZ; the Sharjah Biennial, UAE; Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; Tampa Museum of Art, FL; Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, CO and John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI and solo presentation at Boise Museum of Art, ID. Upcoming projects include solo exhibitions at the ICA San Francisco, CA and Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, NY. Her works are represented in collections which include Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art, Tia Collection and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Mattai is also a recipient of a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.
Panel Discussion: Transgressive Materiality
Saturday, July 29th 4 – 6 pm
Using the framework of “Transgressive Materiality,” a select group of curators and academics who are expert in the different fields of Craft processes, South Asian and Caribbean culture, discuss Suchitra’s practice as well as other contemporary artists and how the three aspects intertwine and inform the contemporary art landscape.
Panelists include Suchitra Mattai; Grace Aneiza Ali, Curator and an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Departments of Art and Art History at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida; Joanna Robothaum, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Tampa Museum of Art; Suzanne Isken, Executive Director, Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles, California with jill moniz PhD, founder and creative director of Transformative Arts, moderating.
"The materials in my work are deeply tied to craft process, my South Indian and Caribbean ancestry. My materials are inspired by South Asian culture but have an alchemical nature, a kind of do-it-yourself process embedded within them, that is prevalent in the Caribbean. My Grandmothers made their own clothes and made brooms of plants and branches. Food at weddings (including my parents’ wedding) were and are served on banana leaves. I am interested in taking what was once discarded, and through the labor of craft, making it beautiful, all in the service of empowering women." – Suchitra Mattai
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