Suchitra Mattai artwork explores Indo-Caribbean heritage

Roberts Projects (422 S. La Brea Ave, Los Angeles) presents 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

Suchitra 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) 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 MCA Chicago, Crystal Bridges Museum, the Sharjah Biennial, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Tampa Museum of Art, the MCA Denver, Kohler Arts Center and solo exhibitions at the Boise Museum of Art and Kavi Gupta Gallery.

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