Bailey Diamond (Colorado University Independent) features Indo-Caribbean artist Suchitra Mattai. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention. Also see previous post: Suchitra Mattai: Innocence and everything after.]
Visual artist Suchitra Mattai led a virtual lecture on Feb. 10 hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder Arts and Art History Program. The lecture focused on her personal artwork, which addresses themes of diaspora, colonial narratives and landscape through a mixed media approach.
Suchitra Mattai began her art career with a focus on painting and quickly transitioned to experimentation with different mediums. Her works include aspects ranging from video projections to sculpture as well as craft processes such as knitting and crocheting.
Mattai also uses found objects, particularly ones that have significant meaning to her, such as vintage embroideries and traditional saris. “No materials are off-limits for me,” Mattai said. “As artists, we sometimes get in our heads and it’s hard to create. I’ve learned to experiment and I know for some people that’s a bad word, but for me it’s everything.”
Mattai’s work looks at both her past and present experiences with her culture. While Mattai’s ancestors are from India, she was born in Guyana. This diverse background created an interesting cultural parallel, where Mattai was free to explore her Indo Caribbean background. “I grew up as a Hindu watching Bollywood films and eating Indian food, but I feel like part of the Caribbean background as well,” Mattai said. “My art is an opportunity for me to piece different aspects of my culture together and make them whole.”
Throughout her life, Mattai lived in a variety of places with her family including Canada, India, Europe and all across the United States. “Those diverse experiences really feed my work,” Mattai said. “I wanted to explore what it is to lose your sense of place, self, and identity- to leave a home and do not have a home.”
Mattai explores this concept through a gorgeous collection of texture, color and material. Her previous works have been displayed in museums across the United States, from Denver to New York City. Mattai also recently created commission pieces for the Sharjah Biennial, which is a massive exhibition that occurs in the United Arab Emirates. “Because I had the scale and budget I was able to create something that really reflected the ideas I had been thinking about on a grander scale,” Mattai said.
Her pieces for the Sharjah Biennial are a set of large and colorful tapestries created from vintage saris gathered from all over the world.
Mattai intentionally used this medium as an ode to the South Asian women in the area. Many of these women are stuck performing lower-level jobs, which Mattai connected to her own family’s experiences with labor. “I realized that I wanted to make a work that felt like a monument to them,” Mattai said. “I saw this work to be a way of connecting women of the Indian and South Asian diaspora over land and through time.”
Along with creative ambition taken from personal experience, Mattai gains inspiration from other prominent figures, including artist Louise Bourgeois and poet Wallace Stevens. “There’s a quote I love by Wallace Stevens that says ‘Throw away the light, the definitions, and say what you see in the dark,’” Matti said. “I would add to make what you see in the dark. Trust your intuition and trust yourself.”
As she closed her lecture, Mattai left aspiring student artists with advice from her own creative endeavors. “Don’t compare yourself. All of our careers are different and happen at different times,” Mattai said. “Feel very deeply, think critically, and work poetically. In the making there’s freedom, and that freedom comes from trusting your intuition.”